Today is Martin Luther King Day. A day in which we should reflect on his movement, his dream. Make even more strides to further its goal. I don’t think there is anyone who hasn’t heard the famous “I have a dream” speech. One of the most repeated speeches in history. It was… no IS a lofty and incredibly powerful dream. One that has great value and grand design, yet seems so very difficult for us as a culture to embrace.
I’m not saying that our current society has failed, quite the contrary. I think we have taken some very cognizant steps towards realizing His dream. Equality is still tilted towards one side, and probably will be for a little longer. I do believe though, that we have leveled that scale more than just a little. Education will always be the weapon of choice in this war. Our children will be the ones who win the battles that might possibly turn the tide.
When I consider that it was only a half century ago that found “Mississippi Burning”. Then look at events of this decade, I can see promise on the horizon. Do I believe we’ll see the fulfillment of the good Doctors dream in my lifetime? I seriously doubt it, but we have made significant strides in appropriate directions. The problem I see before us is… We are fighting a belief system that is taught to children from their youngest most impressionable age. Not to mention the instruction is performed by a parent or parents and even grandparents. It is a significant barricade to bulldoze. Belief systems are like stone walls though, or perhaps fortifications. Every wall or bunker I have ever seen has it’s weak points. Mortar can be chipped away, loosening the hold on those building blocks. Sooner or later that wall will come tumbling down.
I remember, very clearly, when my Mother moved us to Mississippi, circa 1978. We were living in an apartment complex during the initial construction of the house. Laundry had to be carted off to a Laundromat, washed folded, and carted back home. The first time we pulled up in front the local establishment, was my introduction to prejudice. It was one of those old duplex like buildings, equally structured on both sides, each with its own door. Of course one side was in serious disrepair and in need of considerable work and paint, while the other was clean and well kept. Confusing because both was obviously owned and operated by the same person or company. I saw the signs mounted above the doors, and it perplexed me. I asked Mother, “How come we have to wash our white clothes in one Laundromat, and our colored clothes in the another?”. The sign had proclaimed it very clearly, “Whites Only” above one door, and “Colored” over the other. Mother’s brow knitted in consternation, I’m sure she was trying to figure out exactly how to explain prejudice to an 11 year old who had never in his life seen or experienced it. She got this strange look in her eyes, and said “Eric, they aren’t talking about the clothes. They are talking about people!”. Still a little befuddled, and I’m sure she could see it on my face because she said, “White people can wash their clothes in one, and colored people in the other, but colored people can’t go into to the white peoples laundry.”. Of course I had no inkling of exactly what she meant by “colored” people. I started to look around, hoping I would see one of these rainbow colored people, it must be fascinating. I had seen Black people, yet it never dawned on me they were colored! Foolish me, I simply thought they were people with black skin.
That was my inauguration to bigotry, and believe me it didn’t stop there. Literally, one side of the railroad tracks was “Colored Town”, and the other “White Town”. Even back then, I could feel the current of thought that actively worked towards keeping “them” downtrodden and destitute. I never understood it, certainly never will.
It wasn’t long before I moved back to my small home town in the mountains of Colorado with my Father. Fairplay was one of those little idyllic towns on the surface. One where a person could believe that concepts like bigotry and prejudice didn’t exist. Trust me though, they existed, sometimes hidden under an elegant camouflage, but it’s still there.
We had one black family in town. The Mother was town mayor, and science teacher. The Father was our music teacher. They had two beautiful daughters and we, at least I, thought of them no differently than any of our other friends. Thinking back though, I’m sure they suffered the disrespect and discrimination associated with bigotry. Never once though, can I recall any of them complaining or bring forth their sufferings. I’m sure it was because of the parents. In their time, they were told to expect it and to deal with it. I have trouble wrapping my mind around how? There is a slightly more diverse community now, but not by much. I would like to say even less prejudice, but that simply isn’t true.
When I joined the Army, and served my four years at home and overseas, I felt that prejudice just wasn’t an issue. I’m sure it was there, I can even recall a few examples, but very few. I guess the military has “integrated”, a word I’m not really comfortable with because of the connotations and improper use that come with it, far better than the rest of our society. I’m sure others have had different experiences, just look at the headlines from Fort Bragg a few years back. It is still there, I’m sure far better hidden than anywhere else.
I have had a much more thorough involvement with the hate that boils at the base of all bigotry. In the early 90’s, I was in law enforcement, first as a city Police Officer in that same small town, then on to be a Deputy Sheriff in our county. During that time, I was part of a multi agency jurisdictional task force, that kept track of the hate groups. KKK, Skin Heads, White Supremacists of many a different moniker. Martin Luther King Day was the time for our little task force to gather in Denver. We were in plain clothes, but made no effort to hide the fact we were cops. Our job was to meet and talk with as many members of these groups as possible, before, during, and after the parade. Find out who they were, how they fit into their hierarchy, take their photographs; document names, monikers, and of course tattoos. Let me tell you, that was an experience! It was difficult for me, because you couldn’t let any judgment show. When you’re talking with many of them, they actually try to recruit you. I learned many disturbing beliefs of the enemy, and discovered first hand exactly how uneducated and brain washed they are. I found it very difficult to be impassive.
Each and every day, I drive this big beautiful country of ours. And each and every hour, I’m bombarded with a plethora of ignorance and hate. The CB is constantly blaring out the insults, innuendo, and threats. I sometimes wonder where all these people are hiding, because you don’t hear nearly as much at the truck stops as you do on the road. I suppose it’s the anonymity of the CB, and the comfort of not being identifiable. It saddens me to hear some of the ignorant blathering of a few very disturbed individuals. I find it interesting that prejudice has become so heavily frowned upon, yet it is still so prevalent.
Yes, Dr. King had a dream. A wonderful, grand, and glorious dream. We have chosen as a society to embrace his dream. Have we made progress? Yes indeed… yet we have so very much farther to go.