I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character.—Martin Luther King, Jr.
I hardly know where to start this morning. I have been thinking for the past week about what I would write this morning, and all that has done is left me angry that I should need to write anything specific at all. Here we are at yet another Martin Luther King, Jr. day, and I would be hard pressed to define any substantial way in which matters of racism have improved. There are days when I wonder if we’ve actually moved backward.
When President Obama took office in 2009, it was widely assumed that we had entered a post-racial era; we must be beyond racism for us to elect a black president. What the past eight years has shown us, though, is a very different picture. The hate and animosity hurled toward the president, not just in secret but openly and defiantly, has been unprecedented. Over the past eight years, we have seen more public demonstrations of hate toward people of color, any color, than since the civil rights movements of the 1960s.
Over the past eight years, we have come to realize that not only are our cities and our schools still segregated in very real ways, but that the playing field of opportunity is tilted against people of color. There is, in far too many cities and states, a different system of justice for people of color than what exists for whites. The Ku Klux Klan has been allowed to return and the prevalence of armed neo-nazi groups has been steadily on the rise.
There is no justification for such blatant racism. There is no excuse. I’m tired of hearing people start a sentence with “I’m not racist,” and then turn right around and follow that with some form of slander against people of color. I’m weary of having people tell me they’re reluctant to go into certain parts of town because of the number of blacks present. I’m exhausted from seeing white people, especially white people of affluence, go out of their way to avoid coming into contact not only with those whose skin is a different color,but whose religion requires a different manner of dress.
One of the most public, and disgusting slights came just this past week when the American Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences announced the nominees for their annual awards; you know, the ones most commonly referred to as the Oscars. While the Academy is just fine having a black person host the show (Chris Rock), and utilizing people of color as presenters, for the second year in a row every last one of the nominees for major awards is white. There are no blacks up for best actor or actress. There is no one of Asian ancestry nominated in a supporting role. There is no one of Hispanic or Persian heritage anywhere on the list.
What frustrates me the most is that white people just don’t seem to understand how very racist they are. Bring up the subject and they are quick to say something like, “I have black friends,” or “my next-door neighbor is black,” or “I have black employees.” Apparently, too many white people fail to see how condescending their actions are, how they speak to and treat people of color differently than they do other white people.
Racism isn’t something we can just legislate away. Racism is an attitude, a belief system built upon the principle that one group of people are better than another simply because of the pigmentation of their skin. Eliminating racism means doing away with that belief system that has been ingrained within the human race for millennia.
Here’s the rub: scientifically, there is no such thing as race. There is no differentiation of species that make humans from the African continent any different from humans in Asia. Humans in South America are exactly the same as those in North America. Any difference in pigmentation is an adaptive trait based upon the climate and has absolutely no bearing on the species at all. From a scientific perspective, race doesn’t exist; it is all in our stupid little heads.
Yet, here we are, more than 50 years after the fact, still chasing a dream that is rooted in common sense and plain decency. We like to tout our progress while completely ignoring our many failings. We have set aside today to celebrate a dream, but we refuse to allow that dream to become reality. How can we call today a holiday when the person for whom it is named is just as likely to be arrested on false charges today as he was in 1964? This is no dream. This is a nightmare.
Don’t ask me for a solution when the solution is you. The solution is each of us. I can only work on myself. I might try to hold immediate members of my family accountable, but ultimately the decision is one we each make for ourselves. Racism isn’t an accident and until we universally adjust our attitudes the dream can never become reality.