I have a dream that one day on the red hills of Georgia, the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave owners will be able to sit down together at the table of brotherhood.As I told Conrad that I was about to blog about Martin Luther King Jr. today, he pointed out that he had seen many posts about MLK on his wall today--that liberals and conservatives alike were trying to claim him and say that if he were alive today he would be on their side. Conrad then conjectured that he didn't think MLK would want to claim either side--that he'd simply just not want to be part of the tug-of-war at all. And, frankly, I agree with him.
I saw Rachel Maddow claim that "Republicans just judge people." She's an intelligent woman. She's an educated woman. And yet she seemingly doesn't see the irony in her own cant. I read through his speech. I see a man seeking for unity, not polarity. I think Conrad was right. He wouldn't side with democrats or republicans. He'd side with humanity. And, from what I can see, both republicans and democrats aren't on the side of humanity. They are vying for political control against the other party.
But let us leave the D-R debate for another day, and focus on the topic of MLK. The passage from his speech that I quoted above seems to me to say that he seeks brotherhood. He seeks equality. He seeks fair and equitable treatment for all. And it is very apparent to me that we have not yet achieved that. We've made progress--surely we have. Yet we still have a long way to go. As I blogged about the other day, there is severe economic inequity in our country. People who are oppressed for being poor--most often through no fault of their own. We have people being oppressed for their gender identity, their sexual orientation, their lifestyle choices, their clothing style, their appearance, their abilities or disabilities, their skin color, their manner of speech, their level of education. We are far from egalitarian.
I hope to continue the work that Martin Luther King Jr. did while he was with us. I hope to move forward the cause of freedom and equal treatment for all. I hope for an America where people will, as he put it, "not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character."
At the math conference I attended last week, I met an esteemed professor that I hadn't seen in some time. I told him I was hired at Morehouse college and enjoying it there. We talked extensively about diversity and issues related to it. He asked me what I had learned about diversity from working at a historically black college. It was a stimulating and pleasant discussion, and I'd like to share some of the things that I shared with him.
One day in class I had a student ask me if I would let my daughter date a black man. I was surprised at the question. To me, that isn't a question at all. I was not raised around any kind of racist rhetoric. Any time I heard any racist remarks it was in the context of "people used to think this way, back before they knew better". So, to me, discouraging my daughter from dating a person simply because of his skin color seemed entirely illogical--and it truly is. And I said that much to my student. (What I didn't add was that I would personally be okay with dating a black man--I'll save that discussion for another day.) I told my class that I cared more about whether the potential date would be good to her than what color his skin was.
I remember my mom telling me that one time when she was younger she asked her mother "What would you do if I dated a black man?" and the reply was "I'd just die." When my mom told me this story, I was shocked. To me that's such a crazy thing to say. But my mom explained that that's just how people thought back then. And, to be fair, my grandmother (who's still alive) isn't racist at all. She's a rather agreeable person. I'm sure her views on many things have changed drastically over the years. This is actually part of the reason why I felt like the question (would I let my daughter date a black man) was a rather silly thing to be asking. To me, it would be the same as asking "Would you let your daughter date a man whose favorite color was red?" It seems wholly irrelevant.
One day in class I asked my students how they had felt racism in their own lives. The reason I asked is because I don't feel racism in my own life. As far as I know, I have never been oppressed for being white. I've never been refused service at any establishment or denied consideration for any job opportunity--at least as far as I know. I never hear derogatory comments against white people. I never even hear derogatory comments against people of any other race. From my own personal experience in life, racism is dead. So I wanted to know what my students thought. I was pleased to know that not many of them had very strong negative experiences to share. To me that means that racism isn't nearly as bad as it has been in the past. However, there were many students who said that they had felt racism in their own lives, in a big way. When I asked, most of them said that they didn't feel it as much in Atlanta as they did in their home town.
I've said it to my students, and I'll say it here. Racism is imbecile. Judging a person based on eir skin color is ridiculous and ignorant. And so is any other form of prejudice. Judging a person based on sexual orientation, gender identity, economic status, education level, personal ability, sexual attractiveness. These are all ridiculous things. I don't see white people and black people. I don't see gay people and straight people. I don't see rich people and poor people. I see people. People need to be loved. People need to feel included. People deserve to pursue happiness in their own way. People deserve to be treated with respect and equity. People deserve to be loved and appreciated.
So, I add my own dream to the dream of MLK. I dream of an egalitarian society. I dream of a loving human race. I dream of people being treated kindly and with respect. I dream of conservatives and liberals sitting down together and enjoying each other's company. I dream of Christians and the irreligious being respectful and kind to one another. I dream of every person feeling a sense of belonging to society, not feeling cast out for their own nature or way of life. Not just for America. But for the world. And not just for humans, but for all life.