As a young child, when I first learned about Martin Luther King, Jr., I was in awe of this man. He was inspiring, brave, and I felt he could understand how I felt. It deeply saddened me that anyone would want to harm him and I didn’t really come to understand the depth of hatred, racism, and the fear that gripped a country. I think it’s all still there, just not as blatant as it was during his time.
My parents didn’t talk much about race or racism. I think they just tried to keep their head down and work hard, but they did impart a few thoughts to me: 1) No matter how American you try to become, you will never be fully American (despite the fact that you were born in America) because of the way you look. You are not white, therefore, much like the Japanese internment during WWII, you also will be discriminated against; 2) Black people are scary – lock your doors; 3) You have to outshine everyone to make yourself acceptable in this white world, which is why you have to work hard and be the best in all that you do.
These thoughts – the only words really every said out loud in regards to this subject – created a constant uneasiness in my life. I was always fearful that people would not see me as an American and when people asked where I was from, I would always respond, “Chicago.” (It was the city of my birth, after all.) Of course, that answer was never satisfactory and the poking would continue until they finally got to where my parents were from or, in some cases, where my ancestors were from. (How far back do you want to go?)
I’m not sure how good a job I am doing for my own daughter in this discussion. She sees colors – of a uniform, a shirt, the hair, but never their skin. The skin color doesn’t make her friends different in her eyes, but their likes and dislikes, how they treat one another, and whether or not they know the words to “My Little Pony” songs. We do our best to explain to her that all people are equal, regardless of those things, and that because we are human beings, we care for one another – with grace and compassion.
We prepare her that there are times where people treat one another poorly because we are different and that it’s not okay to do that. It’s something worth standing up for and raising your voice about. It’s why Martin Luther King, Jr. tirelessly preached even unto his death.
For some of you, it may feel that the relevance of Martin Luther King, Jr. is only one of history, but I would heartily disagree. Until we truly do see that there are “no gradations in the image of God,” the dream of Martin Luther King, Jr. is still not fully realized.
Until then, I continue to hope – for myself and for my children as well as their children. I truly do hope that one day we will live as Martin Luther King, Jr. preached, “…together as brothers and to respect the dignity and worth of every man.”