As I write this it is about 20 minutes to 10, on a wet, grey Monday morning. It is also the day we celebrate Martin Luther King Jr.'s birthday.
I would be lying if I said King was one of my childhood heroes, first he died before I was born, and second, mine ran more to Issac Asimov or Arthur C. Clarke than MLK.
That being said, on this 25th anniversary of the founding of the federal holiday and the 50th since the great man was slain I find myself more and more struck by his life and his words.
I say "great man" and I mean it. When I was young I really didn't understand what the big deal was. I mean, I'd learned about Rosa Parks, of course, and about King, but I didn't realize that one of the big battles of the civil rights movement was fought in Kansas. Brown v. Topeka Board of Education in 1954 was the big federal case which struck down separate schools for black and white students.
I don't know why we didn't learn more about King and the civil rights movement in school. Given how little time is available to teach history, and the way it's usually taught in grade school especially, there simply wasn't enough time or perhaps it was not felt to be important in a school in southwest Kansas — or perhaps in the 70s and early 80s it was simply too raw, too recent.
Whatever the reason it was some years before I began to really hear about the man and his message.
These days, I find his "I have a Dream," speech more and more profound.
When I was young, and with the innocence of childhood, I didn't understand the issue so many adults seemed to have with color. I had friends who were white, and friends who were not, this was normal and not anything I paid particular attention to. As I got older, of course, that changed as it did for much of my generation. Still race, for the most part, was not much of an issue for me or for most of my friends. Oh, I had my prejudices and preconceptions, we all do.
I still do I suppose, although I try to work past that when I run up against them.
Still, the idea of a colorblind society appeals to me as it did to King. A society where people are "judged not by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character."
Unlike many commentators who wish to say King would be appalled by what his dream has become, I don't think so.
Oh, there are areas where he would be disappointed, of course. I think the idea of racial preferences would probably anger Rev. King. I think he would be disappointed as well by some of the lingering racism in this country. Especially, for the highly educated Dr. King, the "soft racism of low expectations," former President George W. Bush discussed in a State of the Union address.
Too, I think he would be upset by the tendency of politicians on both sides of the debate to divide us by race, and to use race to score political points. That is the worst kind of demagoguery and it needs to stop, whatever the party and whoever is doing it.
At the same time I think he would be heartened by the level of upward mobility in the African-American Community. Many more African-Americans are entering the middle and upper classes than ever before. Yes, there are still problems there, but slowly, surely, they're getting better.
I think he would have been elated by the election of Barack Obama as president.
Whatever my political differences with Obama, I was still aware of the immense progress of this nation when a black man could be elected president, and the historic nature of that election. I am proud that my nation has made that step — as I think King would be too.
Yes, we still have a long way to go to reach that colorblind society King dreamt of, but we have made enormous strides as well.
This week, as we celebrate the birth of the man who brought it all to a head, and next month as we remember the history, good and bad, of a people who have done great things for this nation, let us all set aside color and labels.
Let us all be, not African-American, or Asian-American or any other hyphenated-American, but simply Americans. Let us all set aside our preconceptions about each other based on race or politics and simply talk to one another. Let us celebrate both what we have in common, and the differences which make us great as a people — for the American people are a great people and they are one people, of many colors — and that is beautiful.
All IMHO, of course.