Award-winning author and filmmaker Mitchell S. Jackson shared his views and personal experiences with the ‘Other America,’ referring to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s Stanford speech, at a commemoration event held in King’s honor.
In his speech, King outlined the economic inequality that divided America into two: one which was “overflowing with the milk of prosperity” and the ‘Other America’ in which “people are poor by the thousands.” Jackson called the affluent side ‘America the beautiful.’
Jackson spoke in-depth about the idea of ‘Other America.’ Jackson even reflected on his own experience growing up in Northeast Portland, Ore. in his childhood home “ridden with drug dealers and addicts,” including his mother.
“The ‘Other America’ is most potent when it is a place and a pathology,” Jackson said.
He described his time as a drug dealer and, more specifically, when he was confronted by another dealer named Stitches who threatened to kill him while calling himself a “real killer.” Jackson felt that Stitches suffered from the “psychological deprivation” caused by the othering of certain groups.
“‘Other America’ exists because poverty becomes a part of one’s view of the world as well as one’s expectations of oneself,” Jackson said. “The affluent society isn’t even a hope but rather a taunt. When one is so far removed from ‘America the beautiful,’ it is difficult to believe it is an achievable possibility, resulting in the increase of poverty.”
According to Jackson, the ‘Other America’ began on Jan. 1, 1863, when President Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation.
“In antebellum America, the ‘Other America’ didn’t exist,” Jackson said. “In antebellum America, the people in bondage were part of ‘America the beautiful.’”
Before the war, slaves were not participants of America but rather “part of the material” which created ‘America the beautiful,’ he explained. In freeing people after the war, the ‘Other America’ became evident as thousands of United States citizens were now in unsupported poverty.
Jackson listed several notable events in history that also contributed to the ‘Other America’ he sees today. Among them was the 1870 Census, the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882, Plessy v. Ferguson, The Immigration Act of 1924 and Homer Hoyt’s One Hundred Years of Land Values in Chicago.
“In setting apart a certain group of people and depleting them of certain resources, the ‘Other America’ [becomes] more and more magnified,” Jackson said.
Jackson ended his speech with a story about his return years later to the place where Stitches threatened him. He found that the area was no longer a part of the ‘Other America’ and that Northeast Portland, Ore. had became a place for ‘America the beautiful.’
“In a way it makes me feel like there is an evolution in the city, and then it makes me feel sad, a little bit,” Jackson said. “I don’t want to condemn it. But we should also be asking ourselves question: what is the price of ‘America the beautiful?’”
According to Jackson, the greatest cost of America the beautiful is its necessity of the ‘Other America,’ which ties back to the very beginning of the United States.
Jackson advocated for people to strive for a unified America instead of the dependent ‘America the beautiful.’
“The moral arc of a nation boomerangs to its moral conscience. We need to provide the tools to critique the ethos of ‘Other America,’” he said. “The real hope is to live in a united America, with one hope and one dream.”