Mitchell S. Jackson, an author, filmmaker and New York University faculty member, spoke in commemoration of Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday Jan. 23 at Sage Chapel on “The Other America II,” an elaboration of ideas expressed by King in his 1967 speech “The Other America.”
Like King, Jackson said America is split into two groups. He described one America, which he labeled “America the beautiful,” as a place where children grow up surrounded by opportunity. By contrast, children who grow up in what he called the “other America” are denied not only opportunities but basic resources.
“What is the price of America the beautiful?” Jackson asked. He said the existence of “America the beautiful” relies on the subjugation of the “other America,” which was created after the Emancipation Proclamation to maintain the power and resources white Americans possessed during slavery.
He said the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in Plessy v. Ferguson case in 1896 endorsing “separate but equal” segregation laws and the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882 further contributed to the creation of the two Americas.
Jackson said that the notion of uniting the “other America” and “America the beautiful” is a difficult one due to the reliance of the latter on the existence of the former. “The moral arc of a nation boomerangs back to its founding conscience,” he said, later adding, “At what point is [subjugation and othering] not the fiber of America?”
However, Jackson also said it is important for individuals to maintain hope for the future, and for those with experience living in both Americas to help bridge the gap between them. He also said people who want to unite the Americas can do so by ensuring “that the ‘other’ is visible outside of the ‘other America.’”
During a Q&A, an audience member asked how King’s principles can be converted and applied to a new era and a new generation of people. Jackson said King’s principles do not need to be converted because “justice does not have an age.”
“If you are speaking the truth,” said Jackson, “that has no timeline.”
Another audience member asked Jackson about reconciling her identity as an immigrant with her identity as a black woman in America, and how she might “fit into” the scheme of the two Americas.
Jackson, who grew up in northeast Portland, Oregon, in the 1980s and ’90s – at that time part of the “other America” – emphasized that his experience limited and shaped his idea of the American dream and his personal potential. As a result, he encouraged the audience member to share the values and ideas of opportunity she learned growing up in an immigrant family with people in the “other America.” Jackson said he wished such knowledge had been shared with him by his own friends growing up.
Attended by several hundred people, the event was sponsored by Cornell United Religious Work, the Office of Academic Diversity Initiatives and a number of campus organizations.
Teagan Todd ’20 is a writer intern for the Cornell Chronicle.