Monday, January 18, 2010

What price freedom?

Today was Dr. Martin Luther King Day here in the United States. Perhaps the most unobserved observed holiday ever.
There was no mail delivery, schools were closed and most banks were closed. Otherwise, most of us worked all day, which is pretty much the same as when it snows.
As some of you remember, the holiday as it was originally proposed drew some harsh criticism from folks in those southern states where Dr. King was roundly criticised during his activism and still to this day is the subject of some hatred. Time wounds all heels.
Some of us are old enough to remember signs that said "Negroes may buy here" and "Whites only" drinking fountains. What is lost on the youth of today (and some legislators) is that the country was a much different place a scant 40 years ago - some 2 scores in Lincoln's language.
The interesting part of the Doctor King holiday is that some people are worked up over the fact that a man of color (Barack Obama) has been elected president, and somehow, Dr. King would be proud. What they fail to realize is that Dr. King wasn't all that interested in a legacy of elected office as he was in the overall advancement of civil rights, which sadly, is still lacking. He was more interested in the progression of "the movement" than in politics. Otherwise, he would have run for office, but I suspect he felt he could do more without the burden of political pressure - and he was right. Sadly, his movement still has some work ahead of it.
Salaries are still lower for minorities in this country and the rate of unemployment is still lower than it is for white people. Those things haven't changed much in the 40 years since he "had a dream" and I suspect that they won't change much in the next 40 years either.
The real problem is that we are of different color, and that visual perspective has a bigger influence on people than any legislative policy or created policy would have or will have. That's the sad part - that the influence of our ancestry will preclude any law.
We can legislate behavior but we cannot legislate morality, and the morality is that the behavior will not change. Sad but true. Certain people will always have certain beliefs because they are of a certain moral lineage.
"You are a white. The Imperial Wizard. Now, if you don't think this is logic you can burn me on the fiery cross. This is the logic: You have the choice of spending fifteen years married to a woman, a black woman or a white woman. Fifteen years kissing and hugging and sleeping real close on hot nights. With a black, black woman or a white, white woman. The white woman is Kate Smith. And the black woman is Lena Horne. So you're not concerned with black or white anymore, are you? You are concerned with how cute or how pretty. Then let's really get basic and persecute ugly people!"
In some respects, we haven't come that far in race relations than we had in the 1950s. Sure, we have passed Civil Rights legislation and instituted laws requiring employers to embrace color-ignorant hiring practices, but if it were left to individuals, I suspect that we would still be in the dark ages (pun) with regard to employing people of color (there's that phrase again) and minorities, to the point that they would be petitioning their local and state governments to change the way hiring and employment practices are carried out. We give more respect to animals than we do of humans sometimes. Ask Michael Vick about that.
So, we have this holiday that some of us observe but do not actively participate; and others observe but ignore. You won't change ideas but you can change behavior by making certain things illegal.
What most people of this generation don't know is that those ideals of "whites only" don't apply to them because they have no perspective on it. If they had gone through it as a race they might have a different perspective and maybe the world would be a little different now. The fact is that if a white man is seen in public with a black woman he will still get a stare reminiscent of the racist treatment of his ancestors. Those things will probably not change because we will always be different colors, and that's too much for some people to take.
Does that make a change in America or does it merely change the way people are forced to do business?


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howard said...

i like your take on race relations. it's pretty nice reformulation of the Bruce Hornsby song "The Way It Is." as much as many of us want it to change, we understand real change happens slowly, if at all. it seems to happen more or less generationally.

if i were to discuss King Day, or the legacy of the man who inspired it, i'd more likely point out the part of his cause that gets overlooked: the campaign against poverty (regardless of skin color). by rewriting history to make it just about race, it's easier to pit poor whites against poor blacks. the wealthy on either side are much less likely to care about this particular problem, one way or another.

Anthony said...

One of the minor issues raised over the holiday was that presumably, Dr. King would be proud that Barack Obama was president.
What Dr. King was really striving for was equality among the masses, not in government particularly, so Obama's presidency while a progression, would not have helped achieve any of Dr. King's goals.

We're still behind.

DMB said...

Thank you!!!