Monday, January 21, 2013

MLK Day Thoughts

For most of the United States it's Martin Luther King Jr. day today.

Some of my students, those who aren't just reveling in the day off, ask why we still make such a big deal about it. While I take the time to explain to them how he crusaded for equality, and I usually clue them in to other figures in the struggle for equality, like Rosa Parks and Malcolm X, deep inside some part of me is cheering a little.

Before you fire up the lynch mobs, it's not what it sounds like. I'm cheering because in a very important way, he's won. People tend to forget that those born in a world see it as normal, and especially when they're young, don't see how difficult it was for those who came before to make the world they live in. They ask 'why do we celebrate this, isn't this how it's always been?'

There is still prejudice. As long as we have diversity, there will be prejudice. What Martin Luther King gave us was something more subtle, something that paves the way for prejudice to become a marginal thing rather than the center of our lives. What my students don't understand is that prior to King, a vast number of people in the country didn't understand what prejudice meant, didn't really understand why it was wrong, or even that it was wrong. My students today, even the ones that are blatantly prejudiced against others from even a slightly different ethnic background, know in their bones that prejudice is wrong, even when they don't quite realize they're doing it. When you point it out, they're ashamed of themselves.

The foundation has been poured and set. Ours is the struggle of keeping the weeds from overgrowing it, our children's to build something meaningful on it, and their children's to celebrate that success, but the foundation is there, and before King it wasn't. So that's why I cheer when young people don't understand what King did; he laid something so deep it's a 'forever been this way' part of their world. It will take generations for the final score to be tallied, but at this point, he's won.

That said, equality and celebration of diversity weren't King's only message. I saw a quote today that summed up what might be a longer lasting legacy, because if we ever get to a point where people really do rejoice in all diversity, we'll all still need each other. I leave you with that quote and the question: what do YOU do for others?

"Life's most persistent and urgent question is: what are you doing for others?" - Martin Luther King, Jr.

1 comment:

Teresa Cypher said...

This is a wonderful post. I'd not ever formed the thought quite so perfectly as you wrote it-- "People tend to forget that those born in a world see it as normal..." that is at the crux of what remains.

I applaud you for what you teach! :-)