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Monday, January 18, 2010

Martin Luther King, Jr. Day 2010

Today is a federal holiday in honor of the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.; and rightly so. No single man has done more to advance human rights, freedom, equality and liberty in our nation since the Founders wrote the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution establishing those ideals and values as the basis for our country. While just over one year old at the time of his speech in August 1963 at the Washington Mall as part of the March On Washington, it is a speech I make a point to listen to and read every year at this time.

"I Have A Dream" echos within every parent, white or black, Latino or Asian. It is all of our dream that our children are judged by character, and our hope we can instill the character in them that they be judged as honest and loving. As we look into our children's eyes we too dream that they will sit with others of different races, religions, ethnicity, ideologies and opinions; sit without rancor, sit without injury and sit without judgement or accusation. We all have dreams for our children that they may grow to live with integrity and openness, make positive contributions to their communities, engage in work that is fulfilling and strive for success in that work.

America has come very far in race relations since Dr. King's speech over 45 years ago. The signs of racism have been pulled down in the diners in Alabama and the schools in Arkansas. Travel to South Carolina and you will see white hand in black hand as young lovers stroll the mall. Go to Boston and you will see fans of all ethnicities joined together to scream for their ballclub that consists of several races. Travel to a riverboat casino on Mississippi and see friends whose only concern with color is the green of the felt and the red on the chips and not the black or white on each others faces.

America still has far to go in race relations. There are still bigots and racists in our communities. There are still those who will label someone because of the color of their skin, position, associations. There are those who know not the content of another's character but judge them anyway. And because of this we have, as a nation and as individuals, more need for dialogue, more need for conversations on the values and ideals of our nation centered on freedom and liberty, and more need for exposing racism when and where it occurs.

And as we move forward many Americans will be absent from those dialogues, from those conversations. Some by choice and some by exclusion. As we travel farther from the lifetime of Dr. King, it seems we travel further from his values and his messages as well. The conversations on race relations have been captured and held somewhat hostage by a few who wish to exclude the many. Accusations of racism have become so widespread as to disinterest many. Many of those who wish to have conversations on race with others outside of their race do not out of concern of the labels and judgement that may accrue to them.

As long as I am told, "you can't talk about race because you are white," as I have been told. As long as I read "Republicans are racists who just want to keep blacks poor" as I have read in our editorial pages. As long as I hear cries of racism when a man pleads guilty and is convicted of abhorrent crimes and then upon his release from prison continues to pursue a lucrative career. As long as those who make racist remarks but have the "proper" political affiliation are routinely forgiven their remarks. As long as incidents like these occur is as long as our racial divide will continue to exist and at times drift further apart.

And that is a shame, a damn shame.

There are many conversations I would like to have regarding race in America. The shifting dynamics. The political ideology linkage. The relationships between races and cultures in a free nation. The identity politics and sociology that shapes policies and dialogues. But in our current environment I feel I cannot, and shall not.

Unfortunately I am not alone.

Many white Americans are fearful of dialogues on race for fear of words and statements being taken out of context and being used to label them bigots or racists. Trepid of conversations where their intention is either misinterpreted or purposefully misconstrued. Tired of seemingly every negative action by a person of color is labelled "racist" by someone, to the extent that the labels and accusations begin to fall on deaf ears so we start to miss it when real racism occurs.

A few years ago our city, my part of the city, saw a horrific scene of physical violence. The victims were white and the perpertrators were black. There was outrage in the community, and also reticence to address the issues. Rather than speaking publicly many members of the community spoke instead to local columnist Tom Hennessey. He wrote at the time of the number of emails and communications he received from people who wanted to express their views and opinions, but wanted to do so anonymously. Which is how many of our dialogues on race now occur. Anonymously or intra-racial instead of inter-racial.

And this too is a shame. A shame that people willing to engage, to learn, to teach, to interact and to come together feel unable to do so.

I am very grateful to have had the opportunity to learn about Dr. King and his messages. A great orator, his speeches are still captivating. I am grateful as well that my children will learn more about his messages at a younger age than I was. That they have already learned that the color of the skin of their classmates matters not, but how they behave and act do.

I too have a dream. A dream that one day my children will feel safer having conversations about differences physically imposed by circumstance of birth than I do today. A dream that as our great nation hurls into the 21st Century that others will allow, encourage and invite them to have those conversations. While as a nation we have come so very, very far to combat and eliminate racism throughout so many corners of our nation, we are not finished.

Thank you Dr. King for the movement you shouldered and carried through our history. Thank you for shattering barriers of racism that are unthinkable today.


Anonymous said...

two things:

Harry Reid's comments were most certainly not racist. Not one iota. Pointing out racism, as he did, is not racist. Observing that dark skin and ebonics arent going to help one win an election is not racist - it's stating the obvious. Can you really not tell the difference between pointing out the realities of race in America, on the one hand, and on the other hand actually expressing bigotry? Apparently, many on the right cannot tell the difference, which is further evidence of the tone-deafness on race demonstrated year after year by the GOP.

Second, please remember that King's teachings were about much more than race. He identified the "triple evils" of racism, militarism, and classism, and noted that these three are related and intertwined. It's very politically safe to come out against racism (especially when, like you, one avoids pointing to any specific examples!). It's harder to come out against war and unfettered capitalism. But King did, and for this, in all likelihood, he was killed.

King's philosophy is easy to latch onto with lip service, but much harder to actually understand and advocate for.

Dennis C Smith said...

Anonymous: I did not mention Reid, he was doing what you said, pointing out racism. In this instance pointing out racism that exists among registerd Democrats. Your assumption that was the comment I was referring to followed by slandering the entire right and the GOP goes far in supporting my comments.

Thank you for taking the time to read and comment on my post.