Well here we are again; another year, another MLK Day. Forgive me if I sound a bit cynical this year…it’s not intentional. You see, ever since I’ve had an online presence, I’ve done some sort of tribute to Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. He’s one of those historic figures that you can never tire of honoring. But as I lay here thinking about what I’m going to write this year, I can’t get over the fact that Martin Luther King was murdered just a little over 11 years before I was born. I was 7 years old when his birthday became a national holiday. Back then, in the 1980s, it felt like Black people in America were finally getting somewhere – after the turbulent, violent and public struggles of the 1960s; and the legislative bureaucracy of the 1970s. I mean the 1980s was when Black Americans were finally getting some footing in regards to being seen as social equals — when we moved from Blaxploitation flicks to Black and White buddy cop films and pop songs of racial harmony. But then the 1990s came in and we started dealing with stuff like the Rodney King beating and then all of the racist water cooler talk that was generated by the O.J. Simpson case — and racism suffered by African-Americans became a point of contention.
Now fast forward to 2012 and now, we have a Black (well 1/2 Black – but in America, that’s more than enough to be considered Black!) President — which is amazing (my 84 year-old Grandfather says on a regular basis that he never thought he would live to see the day America had a Black President) in and of itself. Yet I live life in this very same America, acutely aware of my “other” status as a Black woman. But today’s racism is not like the chronic leprosy that has plagued America up until the 20th century. No, racism today is more like herpes; lying dormant most the time and fooling you into thinking you are healthy…until you have an outbreak.
This type of racism also leads you to think that you are crazy. Crazy for feeling slighted and uncomfortable…and that you are overreacting and overly sensitive; playing the victim and pulling out the “race card” when the opportunity suits you. But then you start reaching out to others. You find yourself agreeing with others who have grown frustrated with conversations on racism. You laugh, yet see too much truth in things like “Shit White Girls Say…To Black Girls” and Paul Mooney.
But after it’s all said and done, you just feel tired. Aside from being one of my favorite episodes from the Boondocks, I think Aaron McGruder was spot on in his depiction of Martin Luther King, Jr. living in the 21st century in the episode “Return of the King” (which you can see on online here). In this episode, the spotlight is brought around back to Black people — who have seemed to have lost all focus on dealing with racism and instead are satisfied to just settle into the negative gross stereotypes that have been perpetuated for them. But the episode largely just shows one half of a vicious cycle — where people rarely become anything greater or different than what is expected of them. In fact, I’ll throw in a quote from Eminem here:
‘Cause I am, whatever you say I am
If I wasn’t, then why would I say I am?
In the paper, the news everyday I am
I don’t know it’s just the way I am
So as I read through Dr. King’s I Have A Dream speech, I am in awe at how much progress we have made. I am so grateful for all to all who have endured so much pain, sacrificed so much and even died…all to ensure that I would have the right to vote, obtain a quality education, even walk hand-in-hand with my boyfriend in public. But I am also mystified…at that one little part; the “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.” part. Why has this not happened yet? You see, I don’t long for a color-blind society. I don’t want my culture and ethnicity to be ignored no more than I want my gender to be ignored. But I want to be seen as a human being first and foremost; not as a pre-packaged bundle of Black stereotypes and assumptions based in myths. I don’t want to have to spend the rest of my life apologizing for the way that I talk; or explaining and justifying the appearance of my hair. Yes, I’m Black, which makes me different from you. But I also have dreams, desires, intelligence, a family and a household…just like you do. Don’t assume that they are so very different and alien than your own…just because I happen to be Black.
So dear Martin: we have come very far, but we are still working on elevating the common Black American — economically, socially and morally. While I still struggle with proving myself to “not be like the rest of ‘them'” to potential employers, in school and in public; my dream is a shared one with yours…that my future children (G-d willing) will not be characterized first and foremost by the color of their skin. That they won’t be ‘the others’ every time they leave the confines of their home. That they won’t need to feel like aliens who still need to prove their worthiness to their host society.