“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.”
The Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
My mother woke me up before school with the news that the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. had been assassinated. I assumed that, later on, everyone in the playground would be as upset as my folks were. In fact, they were not.
I think, as children, at least to a certain age, we presume that others we know will be in step with what our parents describe as the landscape of life. To that moment, standing on the asphalt pavement, I lived inside the bubble that said, “Our values are shared by all.”
Yet, echoing what they’d surely heard over breakfast, my closest classmates openly expressed the view that now it was time to ramp things up and “get the others”. Their candor reflected the reality that they too assumed universal agreement with the home-grown bigotry and hatred inculcated and ingested as easily as bacon and eggs.
It’s a weird thing when the aging process accelerates and your best friend articulates something you know and intrinsically feel is ugly and repugnant. What do you do then, at 12? Well, you change, you grow, and you begin to realize that we become ourselves, in part, by differentiating from some folks and affiliating with others.
It is now 50 years since the great march on Washington and the famous Dream declared to all Americans. It was a prophetic utterance inspiring us to build a color-blind society, valuing one another according to the endemic worth afforded to all of God’s children, and not according to the pigmentation of our skin or the dangerous and ignorant social construct called “race”.
Over the last half century, it would be impossible to deny the progress in our nation that might well have surprised Dr. King. But we must also admit that we are still mired in backward terminology and thinking that too easily demarcates individuals, defining them as either “Black” or “White”.
Outside of the “human race” there is no concept of race that will stand up to scientific scrutiny. Apart from each of us cherishing our vastly diverse ethnic heritage and the personal history that is broadly informative for all people, there is zero basis for delineating and dividing men and women along lines that in reality run no deeper than skin tone. To do so, whether maliciously or casually, is a vestige of retrograde racism symptomatic of a generation that has yet to fully crystallize a vision as clear and crucial for today as it was five decades ago.
The Christian Gospel and the legacy of the powerful preacher from Atlanta both call us to see one another as Our Lord does. This grand invitation challenges us to look past the crude labels too often affixed on our sisters and brothers. It is a depiction of Salvation, where coarse categorizations must give way to the fundamental truth that we are all redeemed to be one family, gathered forever in the Kingdom of God.