How a Visit to the Dentist Brought Me Full Circle

Mark is a tall, handsome, Black man with a jolly laugh that rings throughout the dental office. 20 years after becoming my dentist, his short, curly hair is turning white. We have not talked politics much, perhaps a brief mention here or there when Obama became President. But today was different. 

Today is Martin Luther King day. I told him I had been standing at the bottom of the steps of the Lincoln Memorial when King gave his famous speech. My family was there, and my mom let me wander up to the front, even though I was only 16. Mark and I started to talk.

 I told Mark I was one of 70,000 White people among the quarter million people there. Later, in 1984, I met Coretta Scott King. I learned from her that the march, in fact the whole Civil Rights Movement, was largely funded by northeastern Jewish Whites like me.

 Mark and I talked about King’s analysis that the problem was not one of Black vs. White. It was a problem of rich vs. poor. At that 1963 March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, I remember seeing tens of thousands of people wearing their union hats.

 We talked about the diversity of the Black community. We talked about the debate over whom to support—Martin or Malcolm—and about a very conservative Black community that thought even King was too radical. Looking back, many analysts now talk about a monolithic Black community, but that’s not how it was. That’s not how it is now.

 We talked about Martin’s assassination. Martin had made the leap from the analysis of segreation as Black vs. White, which Mark and I agreed was an issue meant to divert us from the real issues. King’s analysis became increasingly diverse, focused on rich vs. poor. King then added the antiwar movement and opposition to capitalism.[*] When King’s analysis was an attack on the whole system, he was eliminated.

 It’s rare that I talk with someone who has the same analysis as mine. Imagine finding that person as your dentist.


[*] “King understood racial equality couldn’t be achieved within the constraints of capitalism.”