After much spirited public campaigning and equally tense debates, the US House of Representatives passed the bill on August 2, 1983, followed by the US Senate on October 19, 1983, designating the third Monday of January a federal holiday in memory of Martin Luther King, Jr. Then US President Ronald Reagan signed the bill on November 2, 1983, and it went into effect in January 1986.
As we approach the 32nd observance of MLK Day, the observance has definitely taken on an international flavour as its impact reached into countries with multiracial/multiethnic communities that struggle with discrimination of all sorts.
For this reason, I think the time has come for the United Nations to pass a resolution encouraging members of that world body to join the United States of America in observing the third Monday of January as MLK Day. While it will be up to individual countries to adhere, it will definitely bring to the world’s attention the importance of standing up against those who seek to divide and spew hatred on the basis of skin colour or beliefs.
Meanwhile, in the United States, this year’s observance of MLK Day takes on increased relevance as certain people, who travelled from around the world to call America their home, are forced to deal with the stifling political climate under the Donald Trump presidency. I am talking about people who do not look like Trump being targeted for deportation.
Every non-White immigrant who gained legal status after the 1960s, therefore, should cease being silent because their current existence and benefits can be traced back to the Black-inspired Civil Rights Act of 1964, which spawned the Equal Opportunity Act of 1972.
That’s right, Editor, large numbers of non-White, foreign born nationals now hold high-paying jobs and elected office in America, which was unheard of in the civil rights era. And this is possible, thanks to MLK and those who stood with him in his fight, which was eloquently captured in his ‘I have a dream’ speech that lives on to this day.
Just as Blacks waged struggles against White racists and the White establishment, today’s minority immigrant groups in America are fighting to piggyback on the ‘America is a land of immigrants’ legacy. There may not be a standout modern-day MLK, but just as there were public protests and demonstrations for the rights of Blacks in the turbulent sixties, there are public protests and demonstrations today for the rights of immigrants from south of the US border to call America home.
Editor, contrary to fake public opinion, America does not belong to White folks, even though this group makes up the largest number of people living in America. History will show that White folks migrated to America and met other people living on this large mass of land, and this is why the current push to deport immigrants is based on a misguided racist notion; perhaps even the fear that Hispanics may be growing too fast in numbers in America and could affect future policies and laws via election of public officials on local, state and national levels.
Moreover, it may surprise many people that, in the last quarter of a century, cheap immigrant labour has contributed immensely to the US economy, because, while some Americans did not want to take certain seemingly menial jobs, businesses turned to cheap documented and undocumented immigrants, some of whom continue to pull 12-hour days, 6-day work weeks for less than the national minimum wage and no health benefits.
This is why the current anti-immigration argument by President Trump, a businessman by profession, does not sit well with many small businesses in America, which depend on cheap immigrant labour to survive. What is more ironic is that in the 1980s, when American unions were agitating for better wages and working conditions, they wound up accusing President Reagan of being a pro-business union-buster. US companies began shifting their businesses to developing countries where labour was dirt cheap, working conditions were deplorable and unions were either non-existent or leaders were ‘bought out’. How can cheap labour be good for American businesses abroad but not at home?
Editor, I can go on and on about the vital role of immigrant labour in building America, but, for the record, let it be noted that President Trump’s grandfather migrated from Germany at age 16 and worked as a barber. His Scottish-born mom migrated to America and worked as a domestic servant on Long Island. His first wife hails from Czechoslovakia. His current wife was born in Slovenia. Yet his angry focus is on immigrants from south of the US border and not from immigrants east of the Atlantic Ocean.
Editor, if it is true Trump asked, why people from “shithole” countries are coming to America, this should inspire the UN to internationalize MLK Day.
President Trump has shown disturbingly dark disdain for people who do not look like him, and this became markedly evident when he started a fake news campaign that former US President Barack Obama was not born in the United States. For years, he sustained the inference that Obama was a Black immigrant who successfully ran for the US presidency and that should not have happened. He later boasted he singlehandedly got Obama to produce his birth certificate. But such was Trump’s overt hatred of Obama that it spilled over into now trying to undo everything Obama did as President.
In closing, I am firmly convinced that Americans are now hip to the fact that Trump is a danger to America at home and abroad, and those who openly supported him are slowly distancing themselves from him. Even the evangelical community, which backed him against Hillary Clinton, is reluctantly accepting he may have been the ‘lesser of two evils’, but he still wears the label.
The Rev A R Bernard, of the famed Christian Cultural Center in Brooklyn, New York, was the first to resign from Trump’s evangelical advisory board, last August, in the wake of Trump’s response following the Charlottesville, Virginia violent anti-race protest that saw one White anti-race female killed by a pro-White driver.