MLK Day Open Thread, Featuring Spike Lee & Larry Elder: Is America Still Racist?

Filmmaker boycotts Oscars for being "so white," while radio talker says blacks need to own problems of their own making.


Today is a national holiday honoring the legacy of Martin Luther King, Jr. the murdered civil rights leader whom the FBI tried to get to commit suicide. Read Matt Welch on King's "contested yet universal blueprint for freedom" here and find links to pieces by other Reason staffers and contributors here.

No one can dispute that the United States has a shameful and persistent history of racism specifically aimed at black Americans, the only group that was held as slaves. Other groups also faced indefensible foms of de jure discrimination and there's a strong case to be made that offical policy toward Native Americans was nothing short of genocidal.

The question, then, isn't whether America was racist but to what extent is America still formally and informally excluding people from full participation based not on the "content of their character" but "the color of their skin," to use phrases made famous by MLK. Put more finely, are widely varying outcomes—ranging from levels of income and wealth to the likelihood of being arrested, jailed, or on probation—due to racism or other factors? Nobody can dispute that today's America is vastly different from, say, 40 or 50 years ago, and is much more pluralistic and non-discriminatory. Explicit racism has effectively disappeared from public discourse, which is arguably a greater advance than twice electing an African American president.

Film director Spike Lee, reports The Toronto Star, is boycotting this year's Academy Awards because he says the Oscars is persistently racist:

Honorary Academy Award winner Spike Lee will boycott this year's Oscars in protest at another year where actors and actresses of colour received zero nominations.

After #OscarsSoWhite once again trended on Twitter after the announcement of the nominations, the famous film director posted a lengthy message on Instagram, which asked: "How is it possible for the second consecutive year all 20 contenders under the actor category are white? And let's not even get into the other branches.


"40 white actors in two years and no flava' at all. We can't act? WTF?"…

[Lee] pointed the blame at the executive offices of Hollywood studios, T.V. and cable networks, the "gate-keepers," who make casting decisions.

"The truth is we ain't in those rooms, and, until minorities are, the Oscar nominees will remain lily-white," he added.

Lee said it was no coincidence he posted the message on the 30th anniversary of Martin Luther King's birthday, and referred to a famous quotation from the Civil Rights leader: "There comes a time when one must take a position that is neither safe, nor politic, nor popular, but he must take it because conscience tells him it is right."

Read more here.

Over at the YouTube channel for Prager U, a site named for writer and radio host Dennis Prager and promising "free courses for free minds," Larry Elder asks "Is racism still a major problem in America?" and concludes, "Not so fast."

What do you think, readers? Is Lee right and Elder wrong, or the reverse? Neither right? Both?