Fifty years ago, last August, Martin Luther King, Jr. stood on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial and gave a speech. Unlike the many other moments in American history that has shaped American history, this speech has been watched and re-watched by Americans and the message delivered on that day and for the years of Dr. King’s life has been grounded to the foundation of this nation as much as any other. As a nation, we had to overcome a lot to be able to accomplish as much as we have. As much as any politician, soldier or Founding Father, Martin Luther King Jr. allowed for this to happen.
Twenty years after this speech, after the largest petition campaign in American history and the overwhelming support from Congress, the celebration of the life and birth of Martin Luther King Jr. was made into a federal holiday, recognizing the only private citizen in American History to have the honor. All because the man had the audacity to dream an impossible dream. Sadly, that is what it has become; the impossible dream.
This week, I was involved in a conversation with someone who is white, talking about her five year old daughter, who learned about the life and death of Martin Luther King, had for the first time in her life began to recognize and discern racial differences of those around her. Naturally, her mother who raised her daughter right, had no desire to teach her that one race is different or better than another and that we are all equal. So she was dismayed at the fact that her daughter, who had never spoke of any racial differences in her life, had now saw these differences and more specifically what it meant. What she does not realize is, no matter how she felt about her daughter’s epiphany, black folks had to realize this truth very early in our lives. This reminder can be frivolous and out of place. It can be shocking and aggravating. And it can also be humiliating and shaming.
Growing up, black kids across America have remarkably similar experiences living in a world where we are the minority. It might be petting and touching of our hair or automatically being the bad guy/Indian/robber in chase games or being picked first in basketball. It could also be being told you’re not as pretty or you’re cute “for a black guy/girl” or being told “I don’t date black guys” or just having that inexplicable feeling of being different and apart. This is the world we live in. As much as we want to be normal and live a life more ordinary, these constant reminders that start well before we remember lasted throughout our childhoods and never really end.
No, this is not a suggestion that anyone is born inherently racist. What I am suggesting is that the world that Dr. King dreamed of has not been achieved and in this nation, on this day, we have to accept the reality of our differences. More than accepting them, on this day, Dr. King has given us the opportunity to experience them, learn from them and most importantly, celebrate them. On a whole, this is the one dream of Dr. King’s that we have not achieved and if we were to take these moments of our lives as a barometer, we still have a long way to go. Every time I hear someone tell me, “I don’t see color,” the dream gets harder. Every time I hear someone say “I don’t see you as black,” the dream gets tougher. Every time I’m told “Well, you’re not really black,” the dream becomes bleaker. The more I’m told these things, the more other black youths hear these things, the more I realize that Martin Luther King’s Dream is still out of reach. Because as much as others around me have not accepted our differences, I have. And so should everyone else. Though, like many other black youths, it has taken some time, more time than it should or you can expect, I am comfortable with being black. Are you?
I am black. And I expect it to be recognized. However, I also expect it to be accepted, and celebrated. I am black as much as I am a man. I am black as much as I am American. Most notably, I am black as much as I am friendly.
Enjoy your day, America.