By Mick Krever, CNN
Nearly fifty years ago, an American preacher named Martin Luther King, Jr., stepped in front of the Lincoln Memorial in Washington D.C. to give one of the most important and memorable speeches in history.
“America has given the Negro people a bad check – a check which has come back marked ‘insufficient funds,’” King told the assembled crowd. “But we refuse to believe that the bank of justice is bankrupt. We refuse to believe that there are insufficient funds in the great vaults of opportunity of this nation. So we have come to cash this check - a check that will give us upon demand the riches of freedom and the security of justice.”
Five decades later, has America given its black citizens the check granting the freedom and justice that King so passionately sought?
“We made tremendous progress as a result of the March on Washington,” Maya Wiley, a civil rights activist whose Center for Social Inclusion fights inequality, told CNN’s Hala Gorani on Thursday.
“It’s part of how we got some of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which made it illegal to discriminate employment,” Wiley said, “[and] how we got the Voting Rights Act of 1965.”
But the check King talked about, Wiley said, has not yet been fully cashed.
“We’ve dealt so much with overt racism,” she told Gorani, who was sitting in for Christiane Amanpour. “We still have it in society – but we have a much more complex set of dynamics happening now.”
Social scientific research, Wiley said, says that the way Americans think about race is now much more subtle.
“So, for instance,” she said, “if your name is ‘Laquisha Washington,’ you’re going to have a harder time getting a job even though your resume may look just as good as ‘Emily Walsch.’”
Similarly, Wiley said, there is discrimination in something as seemingly dry as mortgage applications.
“If you are black earning two hundred and fifty thousand dollars a year,” she told Gorani, “you are more likely to have sub-prime, that is high-interest loan, than if you are white earning fifty thousand.”
One important solution to these implicit, not explicit, forms of racism is quite simply knowing people – whether through school, job or neighborhood – of other races.
“When we know each other,” Wiley said, “we break down some of those implicit stereotypes that we sometimes don’t even know we’re carrying.”
On a policy level, something as simple as public transportation, she said, can have a huge impact.
“Two thirds of low- and moderate-income jobs in this country are ninety minutes away from public transportation,” Wiley said. “Most of our public transportation dollars go to highways. We can fix that.”