Monday, January 17, 2011

Race

Today is the official Martin Luther King Holiday. The company I work for has always recognized it as a holiday of choice for anyone who chooses to take it but this is the first year it is a ‘close-the-office’ holiday. However I chose to work it, partly because I know I won’t be interrupted with new assignments and partly because I celebrate this great American’s legacy in other ways.

King Day has been officially observed as a holiday for all Americans since 1986 yet some people still believe it to be primarily an observance for African-Americans. The freedoms Dr. King fought for were primarily for black citizens at the time of his public life because that segment of the population was the most single-out for hatred and discrimination during the 1960s. But many groups were considered minority based only on skin color or religion, including Asian, Hispanic, Jewish and Catholic. The ‘majority’ white population of the era often claimed the United States as theirs exclusively, even though all of them/us were the generational offspring of immigrants.

Even though racism was all around me growing up, I always questioned it. I didn’t understand it. All the black people I knew before high school were friendly and caring … both of them. Sadly, that’s how it was in New Orleans then, before, during and after Dr. King’s era. Something I didn’t know about my hometown then was that the first black child to attend an all-white school was 6-year-old Ruby Bridges and that school was in New Orleans.

Her story is better told in this article I found recently. (click here) A few details: Parents and others surrounded the school and threw things at her. Local police refused to protect her, so federal agents escorted her into the building. White parents refused to send their kids to school if a black kid was in it, so Ruby was the only student in the whole school on the first day. Teachers refused to teach her, so one was flown in from Boston. This sounds like the plot for a bad movie, but it is all true and happened only fifty years ago.

But I don’t have to go through all of this today, do I? You know the details and feelings, either because you lived through them or you studied them in school. The question today is this: did Dr. King’s dream come true? Are people judged by the content of their character or by arbitrary us-versus-them factors? I think most people would agree that things improved for all Americans of all backgrounds. Today might be a good day to consider whether more should be done to realize the dream, not more regulation but more from our hearts.

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In case you've never seen it, here is the complete speech ... 12 minutes well worth spending.

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