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Martin Luther King on the need for restructuring

We all know that Martin Luther King Jr. had a dream. Fewer of us know what he really stood for, fought for and just how radical his views were considered at the time, and even now (the FBI knew, though, thanks to their copious wiretaps and 24-hour spy program in the years following the 1965 bus boycotts).

Here's a side of MLK that most don't know:
“Justice for black people will not flow into society merely from court decisions nor from fountains of political oratory. Nor will a few token changes quell all the tempestuous yearnings of millions of disadvantaged black people. White America must recognize that justice for black people cannot be achieved without radical changes in the structure of our society. The comfortable, the entrenched, the privileged cannot continue to tremble at the prospect of change in the status quo. 
“When millions of people have been cheated for centuries, restitution is a costly process. Inferior education, poor housing, unemployment, inadequate healthcare — each is a bitter component of the oppression that has been our heritage. Each will require billions of dollars to correct. Justice so long deferred has accumulated interest and its cost to society will be substantial in financial as well as human terms. This fact has not been fully grasped, because most of the gains of the past decade were obtained at bargain rates. The desegregation of public facilities cost nothing; neither did the election and appointment of a few black public officials.” [emphasis mine]
I'd argue that this fact still has not been fully grasped by white Americans. I'd argue that these words are just as true for American society in the 1960's as it is for astronomy today. To increase inclusion, and to offer truly equal opportunity to all citizens we must recognize and destroy the racist foundations of our institutions of higher learning. We must fundamentally rethink the way we do science. Our current structure was not borne out of notions of equal opportunity. Out system was not established as a meritocracy since many were originally, and many continue to be excluded. Academia in general and astronomy in particular finds its cultural roots in elitism; in the notion that white men are the only citizens capable of pursuing scientific thought. Today, that legacy is propagated by in-group benefits; benefits that are largely invisible to the people who receive them.

One cannot work for a more fair and equitable field of science while ignoring the existence of racism, both in our past and in our everyday lives today. I've seen far too many "diversity" programs fall by the wayside because the focus on treating symptoms (e.g. low test scores) rather than root causes (e.g. racist stereotypes); aiming for feel-good diversity, rather than radically seeking equal opportunity and the establishment of a true meritocracy; and by falling into the pitfall belief that "excellence" is something objectively measured, rather than subjectively (and often arbitrarily) bequeathed by a privileged class. 


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