Racism, Materialism and Militarism in the US

“We as a nation must undergo a radical revolution of values? when machines and computers, profit motives and property rights, are considered more important than people, the giant triplets of racism, materialism and militarism are incapable of being conquered.”

— Martin Luther King, Jr. April 4, 1967

As we remember the courage and hope of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., we must not forget that he spoke out and worked against the injustices of our nation, particularly those of racism, materialism and militarism.  Indeed that is what made him so hated and so dangerous when he was alive.

We have achievements to celebrate: the repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell;” the release of San Suu Kyi in Burma; the enactment of the Domestic Workers Bill of Rights by the NY legislature that extends important labor rights to 200,000 nannies and housekeepers; the victories of the Coalition of Immokalee Workers; and the exposure of secret US and other country machinations by Wikileaks, among others.

There has been progress in dismembering the laws of segregation which divided our country.  We must celebrate the successes that many struggled to achieve.  However, as we celebrate those victories let us not lose sight of the challenges still facing this country.

Here are some of the facts about racism, materialism and militarism in the US which we should reflect on as we decide how best to carry on the radical struggle for justice of Dr. King.  (For each fact, I provide a brief cite to the sources which are listed at the end of the article).

Let us renew our commitment to the radical revolution of values for which Dr. King gave his life as we turn to the realities of current life.

Racism: Health, Housing, Income and Jobs


Infants born to black women are 1.5 to 3 times more likely to die than infants born to women of all other races or ethnicities.  Black men and women are much more likely to die of heart disease and stroke than their white counterparts.  Hypertension is by far most prevalent among non-Hispanic blacks (42 per cent vs. 29 per cent among whites).  Uninsured persons are only about half as likely to have hypertension under control as those with insurance Source: Centers for Disease Control (CDC).

Twenty-five per cent of black workers and forty-three per cent of Hispanic workers do not have health insurance, compared to fifteen per cent of white workers.  Kaiser Family Foundation

Overall, sixteen per cent of all whites, twenty-one per cent of blacks and thirty-two per cent of Hispanics do not have health insurance.  Census


In cities with large African American populations, black segregation looks pretty much the same as it did 40 years ago; Hispanic segregation is on the rise.  Princeton

Contrary to conventional wisdom, the crisis in subprime mortgages in minority neighborhoods was not the result of riskier lending spurred by the Community Reinvestment Act or a decline in underwriting standards.  Princeton

Even with similar qualities (credit profiles, down payment ratios, personal characteristics, and residential locations) African Americans were more likely to receive subprime loans.  Similarly blacks and Hispanics were significantly more likely than whites to receive loans with unfavorable terms such as prepayment penalties.  The result: from 1993 to 2000, the share of subprime mortgages going to households in minority neighborhoods rose from 2 to 18 per cent.  Princeton

Because predatory lenders could efficiently target entire minority neighborhoods with subprime mortgages, larger numbers of people were affected than would have had they been more geographically spread out.  In true layman’s terms, it was like “shooting fish in a barrel.”  Segregated neighborhoods just made it too easy to engage large numbers of people in this devastating scheme and this multiplied the effect of the crisis.  Princeton

Black middle class families have been stripped of more wealth by the real estate and foreclosure crisis than any single event in US history.  Due entirely to subprime loans, black borrowers are expected to lose between $71 billion and $92 billion.  Devona Walker

Income and Jobs

Median household income for white families is $51,861, for black families is $32,584, and for Hispanic is it $38,039.  Census

The Immigration and Enforcement Agency is on pace to deport about 400,000 people this fiscal year, more under the current administration than any before.  Slevin

The overall unemployment rate among whites is 8.5 per cent and among blacks it is 15.8 per cent.  For white teenagers the unemployment rate is 22 per cent and among blacks it is 44 per cent.  Bureau of Labor Statistics

Materialism: Inequality and Poverty

The top 25 hedge fund managers were paid on average, more than $1 billion each in 2009.  Schwartz, New York Times

Between 2002 and 2007, 65 per cent of all income growth in the US went to the top 1 per cent of the population; that top 1 per cent also held a larger share of income than any time since 1928, according to economists Emmanuel Saez and Thomas Piketty.  Center on Budget and Policy Priorities

There are 43 million people in the US living under the official poverty line.  While there are more white people living in poverty (30 million) than black (10 million) and Hispanic (12 million) poor combined, the poverty rate for whites of 12 per cent is significantly less than the 26 per cent rate for blacks and the 25 per cent rate for Hispanics.  Census

The bottom 20 per cent of the US population have negative wealth, they owe more than the value of all their assets.  From 20 to 40th percentile, the next 20 per cent of the population, average about $5,000 in wealth.  The middle 20 per cent, from the 40 to 60th percentile, own $65,000 in assets.  The next highest 20 per cent, the 60 to 80th percentile, are worth about $208,000.  From 80 to 90th, the average wealth is $477,000.  From 90 to 95th, the wealth is $908,000 in assets.  From 95 to 99th is $2,734,000 in wealth assets.  And the top 1 per cent?  $13,977,000 in average wealth.  State of Working America

Since the economic recession started there has been a 25 per cent rise in the number of people “doubling up” in housing by moving in with others, there has been a rise in the number of homeless families, and in not one of the 50 states can a person working full-time at one minimum wage afford a two bedroom apartment for his or her family.   National Low Income Housing Coalition

Militarism: Troops, Expenditures and Arms Sales

The US reports it has 1.4 million people in active military service in 143 countries around the world.  The top places for US military are:  Afghanistan (105,900), Iraq (96,200), Germany (53,951), and Japan (34,385).  Department of Defense

There are an additional 819,000 people in the Reserve and National Guard and another 709,000 civilian personnel. 2011 Census Statistical Abstract, Table 506.

The US spent $774 billion directly on its military budget in 2010.  The Department of Defense budget was over $660 billion, counting the special expenditures for Iraq and Afghanistan wars.  The Department of Veterans Affairs was $114 billion for 2010.

The US spends much more on its military than any other country in the world.  Military spending has increased by 75 per cent since the year 2000 and represents about $2100 for every person in the US.  Excluding expenditures for veterans the US military budget in 2009 was over $660 billion.  In second place globally was China at about $100 billion.  France was third at $63 billion, the UK next with $58 billion and Russia in 5th place spending $53 billion.  In fact the US spends more on military than the rest of the top 10 countries in the world put together.  SIRI

The US also leads the world in the sale of lethal weapons to others, selling about one of every three weapons worldwide.  The USA’s major clients are South Korea, Israel and United Arab Emirates.  SIRI

The US continues to hold 174 people in indefinite and illegal detention in Guantanamo despite global calls for closure.  Thirty eight of those still being held have won their habeas corpus petitions in front of federal judges but still have not been freed.  Miami Herald.

The US continues to launch remote controlled unmanned predator drones into Pakistan, a country we are not even at war with.  In 2010, US drones struck Pakistan 118 times killing many civilians.  New America Foundation

The number of deaths in the US wars in Iraq and Afghanistan are difficult to calculate since the US only counts US deaths.  The US reports 1277 US military have died in Afghanistan and 4427 died in Iraq.  The Iraq Body Count estimates between 99,357 and 108,475 civilians have died in violence associated with the war in Iraq.  www.iraqbodycount.org

Nobel Prize winning economist Joseph Stiglitz estimates that the total cost of the Iraq war to the US is more than $3 trillion.  For this estimate he calculated the actual military costs, the cost of treating and compensating disabled veterans, a $10 increase in the price of oil (the increase in the price of oil went from $25 a barrel when the US invaded Iraq to as high as $140 a barrel in 2008), the increase in the federal debt and the borrowing that demanded.  Stiglitz


As we celebrate the life of Dr. King, let us realize the challenges that still face those who seek a world of justice and peace.  He showed us that anger at injustice can be combined with courage to create real hope for a better world.  Let us address the injustices of continuing racism, materialism and militarism with the courage and hope that Dr. King displayed in his brief life.


Bureau of Labor Statistics.  Economic News Release, January 7, 2011, Table A-2.

Census:  US Census, Income Poverty and Health Insurance Coverage in the US 2009   http://www.census.gov/

Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, “Top 1 per cent of Americans Reaped Two Thirds of Income Gains in Last Economic Expansion.” http://www.cbpp.org/cms/index.cfm?fa=view&id=2908#_ftn1

CDC: Source: Centers for Disease Control Health Disparities and Inequalities Report, US 2011.

Department of Defense.  Active Military Personnel, September 30, 2010.

James Glanz, “The Economic Cost of War,” NYT, 2-28-09.

Kaiser:  Health Insurance Coverage in America, 2009, Kaiser Family Foundation. http://facts.kff.org/chart.aspx?cb=60&sctn=174&ch=1911

Miami Herald.  Guantanamo by the Numbers. 12-26-10.  http://www.miamiherald.com/2007/11/27/322461/by-the-numbers.html

National Low Income Housing Coalition: Out of Reach 2010.

New America Foundation.  The Year of the Drone: An analysis of US drone strikes in Pakistan, 2004-2011.  http://counterterrorism.newamerica.net/drones

2010 Princeton study “Racial Segregation and the American Foreclosure Crisis,” Jacob Rugh and Douglass Massey:

Nelson Schwartz and Louise Story, “Pay of Hedge Fund Managers Roared Back Last year,” New York Times, March 31, 2010. http://www.nytimes.com/2010/04/01/business/01hedge.html

SIRI.  Stockholm International Peace Research Institute.  Military expenditures: News Release June 2, 2010.  http://www.sipri.org/

Sale of weapons by US: http://www.sipri.org/yearbook/2009/05/05A

Peter Slevin, “Deportation of Illegal Immigrants increases under Obama administration,” Washington Post, 7-26-10.  http://www.washingtonpost.com/

State of Working America.  Economic Policy Institute.

Joseph Stiglitz and Linda J. Blimes, “The true cost of the Iraq war: $3 trillion and beyond,” Washington Post, 9-5-10.  http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2010/09/03/AR2010090302200.html

Devona Walker, “Foreclosures are destroying the Black Middle Class.”

BILL QUIGLEY is Legal Director at the Center for Constitutional Rights and a law professor at Loyola University New Orleans.  He can be reached at quigley77@gmail.com


Bill Quigley teaches law at Loyola University New Orleans and can be reached at quigley77@gmail.com.