Recent news reporting has been inundated with the racist yearbook photograph associated with Virginia Governor Ralph Northam. Whether the photo is of him or not, is in question. However, TO SAY THE VERY LEAST, these pictures are truly despicable!
It’s sickening to see images like those, which hearken to a day when slavery and segregation were legal and socially acceptable. What turns the stomach even further, is the reality that those days were less than a generation ago! Even though the legalization of segregation was outlawed in 1954, the horrific ideology and bigotry which justified such gross inhumane behavior, continue to harm innocent lives and divide our nation.
Last weekend, I spent some time with a good friend discussing racism, past and present. As we drove through his old neighborhood and talked at length, I asked him if he’d be willing to write his thoughts down so I could share them with you. The following is his submission:
“Finding Your Voice” by the Invigorated Observer
Recently, I re-read Dr. King’s “I have a Dream” speech, which he delivered at the March on Washington in 1963. When I was in 7th grade, a guest speaker came into our classroom and read the speech in it’s entirety, with the intention of the original passion in which it was given. While a 12-year-old is not necessarily “changed” by a speech, there are aspects of it I heard that day, which profoundly resonate with me to this day.
What I love about this speech is that it doesn’t have a one-dimensional perspective. He certainly addressed the unjust treatment of black citizens in our country, but it doesn’t stop at that, it goes revolutionary further:
- MEANING—It talks about the people in this country living out the true meaning of all peoples being created equal, and being granted the inalienable rights of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.
- VALUE—It talks about people being valued for the content of their character above and beyond their skin color.
- HARMONY—It recognizes the religious conflict in our society and then culminates in painting a picture of those from various factions holding hands to commemorate their freedom with one harmonious song.
Dr. King’s dream speaks of a world in which I would like to live in. It’s a world and a perspective that I’ve done my best to instill in my kids. For me, it stems from the mentality of recognizing that, despite our differences, we still have many similarities to unite around. Furthermore, if we put ourselves in another’s shoes, we would treat one another like we would want to be treated.
Sadly though, if you’re addicted to 24/7 cable news and talk radio, Dr. King’s dream seems to have been gravely diminished. I believe Dr. King was speaking not only against actions, but against the ideology and mentality that precipitates those actions. The bottom line is: people are looked down upon and treated badly because they are viewed as inferior. People do this as individuals, and to keep a status of “good standing” within their groups, right leaning or left.
It pains me to acknowledge, in our day and age, the issue of equality has been grossly complicated beyond the issue Dr. King cited so long ago. In many respects, the divide has grown seemingly beyond bridging!
- RACE RELATIONS have actually gotten worse in many respects. The racism Dr. King spoke against still exist in many circles, has festered, and become extremely bitter for all sides involved. I understand saying this is not politically correct, but TV writer Norman Lear understood this well when he created both the Archie Bunker and George Jefferson characters. I long for the day when we all operate on “the high plane of dignity and discipline” that Dr. King spoke of.
- IN POLITICS, the rifts that exist today are not only differences of opinion between opposing parties, but also vastly differing ideologies. The language between them has become downright insulting and nasty. Things that were formerly unacceptable or unconscionable are a regular occurrence today. As “talking points” trickle down to the places where we work and live, the “ties that bind” us together as family and friends are stretched beyond the limits of decency, rational and compassion. The altercations which ensue often lead to irreparable damages.
- IN RELIGION, people are supposed to worship and serve a loving God. Oftentimes though, they themselves exhibit the exact opposite. Complicating their hypocrisy, is the fact they rarely comprehend that what they are participating in is largely based on cultural preferences—religiously justified biases and prejudices. What a shame it would be to cut off members of one’s family based on some “religious holy war,” only to learn the belief which led to a “shunning” turned out to be wrong, unjust and inhumane!
So-called “leaders” in our society, religious and political, seem to go out of their way to keep increasing these divides, AND SO MANY BLINDLY FOLLOW. Observing all the resulting hostility, hatred and abuse HAS CAUSED ME TO SIMPLY FOCUS ON BEING A BETTER HUMAN BEING. To do so, I have tried to adopt the following principles for my life:
- PERSPECTIVE: I come from the perspective of a kid growing up in the suburbs of Milwaukee, WI. I know this perspective best, because I lived it. Others in my circle of friends and acquaintances come from different backgrounds and experiences, and each of us brings something of substance to the table of friendship. For me, I’ve purposed to find the beauty in each of these perspectives and (here’s the shocking part) the humor in them as well—mine included. I reason that we’ve all gotten so preoccupied with being offended and have lost our collective sense of humor. I however, have not; nor have most of my friends.
- OPENNESS: With regard to national politics, I’m purposing to be open-minded and not choose a side. I am choosing to align my stance on topics with something larger – compassion and understanding. Personally, I believe that many politicians have decided to silence whatever their core values are in order to march in lock-step with their specific party’s talking points. In doing so, it has allowed them to turn off their consciences and line their pockets. For that reason, I refuse to wear their labels.
- FREEDOM: I’ve set aside my religious affiliations. By choice. On purpose. As a 20 year volunteer in the evangelical church, serving in just about any and every role, I feel like I’ve seen and heard most everything. And a lot of “it” is just crap! What in heaven’s name is wrong with us that we would claim a connection to a loving God and act so immoral or hateful? Gossip! Lies! Rumors! Judgmentalism! Back-stabbing! Arguments! The list of egregious behavior goes on and on; all because somebody clings to some theology that they “believe,” believing they have all the answers to all the questions!?! I’ve decided I don’t need to have all the answers; rather, I need to be content with asking questions and embracing the beauty of life.
- EQUALITY: I’ve decided that I’M NOT GOING TO THINK OF ANYBODY AS INFERIOR, except for those people who can’t navigate a traffic circle or roundabout. Okay, I’m joking! But, I do struggle with this one when I find myself frustrated sitting behind somebody who’s stopped in a roundabout waiting for no one! But… I digress. Seriously though, I’ve determined to personally treat others like I would like to be treated.
I’m far from perfect and I fall off of the wagon with these principles plenty. But I get back up, dust myself off, and keep moving forward. While I may not change the entire world by trying to be a better human being, I can dream. As I do so, I personally put action to thought with my simple guiding principles. Maybe, just maybe, I/we can eventually transform the discord in our nation “into a beautiful symphony of brotherhood.”
Here’s to the pursuit of the “dream,” and to becoming a “moral leader” in our everyday lives. Here’s to passionately demonstrating for our generation the “soul-force” needed to achieve equality and freedom for all peoples, regardless of skin color or social status. For this resolve, I thank Dr. King.
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