Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Thoughts on: MLK and "I have a dream ..."

Today (28 August) is the anniversary of the "I have a dream" speech by Martin Luther King - the day is almost over as I type this ... if there was a time in my life when I understood something important about racism in this nation, this speech touched me very deeply.  I grew up in the lily-white neighborhoods of Dupage County - west suburban Chicago.  I knew nothing of ethnic minorities - they had been systematically and intentionally excluded from my village - my communities were so predominantly white Anglo-Saxon protestant (WASP) that the very idea of a black person was an alien concept.  I literally knew no black Americans all the way through high school. It was something I knew only as an abstraction.  I grew up knowing nothing about black people except what was taught to me in classes about history.  The 1963 MLK speech (50 years ago!) was the summer of the year I graduated from high school. That he would be assassinated 5 years later was, of course, not known at the time.  His speech concerned things that meant little to me at the time because I knew nothing about black America.  Nevertheless, the speech made a lot of sense to me!

Time passed, as it always does, and I was in graduate school when he was shot and killed on that awful day.  The real impact of that on me was more than a year later, when I was drafted into the Army.  My time in the Army was a revelation, when I was thrown into the company of black Americans for the first time ever.  Angry blacks from the ghettos of America, blacks who were simply trying to cope with the shock of being in the military, and blacks who I could call my friends because of our shared experience of being thrown into the melting pot that was the military.  These people were no longer abstractions - they were real people whom I knew and interacted with on a daily basis.  Some were my friends, and some were not.  My service in Vietnam only added to the realization that blacks were not some shadowy figures in an abstract world - they were real people.  with all the foibles of real people, some good and and some bad.  Skin color was only skin deep and what really mattered was the person behind the skin ... imagine that!

Since then, I have found many Arrican-Americans that I can call friends, and those with whom I've not been able to connect.   But if there's anything that connects all of the black folks I've known over the years since my military service, it's been the realization that we're all in the same boat - hoping for a day when race is irrelevant, as Martin's speech describes.  We look forward to the day when the color of one's skin is not even remotely relevant and the character of the soul within the skin is what matters most.  I find the obvious racist paranoia of some of my conservative friends to be most disconcerting - do they not see the vile nature of their comments about black Americans?  It's a terrible legacy we've inherited to be prejudiced by something as meaningless as skin color, and one that deserves only rejection and disdain.  Make whatever judgments you must about a real person on the basis of what they have said and done, not on their enthnicity.   You attack some of those I love and respect in your misdirected hatred.  Listen to the words of one of the greatest Americans that ever walked the Earth: Martin Luther King!  Be ashamed that he met a premature fate at the hands of an ignorant bigot!  Let us come together under the benevolent banner of his dream.  Let us work together to make his dream a reality!

1 comment:

David Ewoldt said...

Well said, Chuck. I think I was one of the lucky ones. I grew up in what I like to call old Oklahoma City (NW 36/Penn area). I went to Putnam Heights Elementary, and then was bussed to Polk Middle School at NE 36 and Prospect. Besides the most obvious benefit of not having parents who raised me as racist, going to schools at an early age where white was the minority still ranks high as one of the best things that ever happen to me. My friends were made up of Native-Americans, Vietnamese, and African-Americans. Long before there was any chance at being pulled into political, race, or religion issues, our concerns each day were: what was for lunch, which girl was the cutest, and dodge ball or football? They weren’t black, they were my friends. I have black friends today that still wonder how in the hell I know about the band Con Funk Shun? It was the bus driver’s favorite band and we had the coolest bus of all with the strapped down 8-track and box speakers hanging. I feel sorry for people that can’t get past the color of someone’s skin. You only get to meet a certain number of good people in this world. It seems a shame to eliminate a good chunk of that potential because of a skin color.