On this 50th anniversary of the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King I’d like to say a few things.
We are, despite our division, in a much better place then we were in 1968.
Despite that we still have a long way to go.
For anyone who wonders if the words and actions of the civil rights movement still have relevance, remember that within most living people’s lifetime there were laws that restricted citizen’s rights to marry, travel and raise children.
That… economic strength, passed on through the generations, was not as strong for women and communities of color, if you were a woman of color things were at least twice as hard.
That… the modern middle class was built on the strength of a massive war effort and the financial benefits that came with it, and that African-Americans were largely exempted from those benefits. These foundations were even further distant when considering that discriminatory hiring, firing and salaries were common and when African-Americans tried to band together to demand better conditions violence always ensued.
The current conditions, economic disparities supported by racist assumptions that are now being used to prove those very assumptions, have been with us a very long time. If the country is over 200 years old and Civil Rights have been in place by law for 50 of those years, even assuming everyone instantly got the rights they deserved, which they didn’t, we have been a bigoted country supported by racist institutions for 3/4 of our existence.
Making it personal, If you have made any “mistakes” in your 20’s are 50 and are still paying for them you are, those mistakes put you about where we are as a country now, older and not really all that much wiser.
Post-racialism is a myth concocted by people who hope we get too lazy to do the math or too distracted to not look at the calendar. If we do nothing else lets not forget that we are only a short few steps into this new paradigm and it isn’t too early to lose it all.
RIP MLK 4/4/1968
Many years ago I was in a car with my uncle and aunt, my uncle has this way of awkwardly pressing down and letting up on the gas and it was silently annoying everyone in the car. Atypical of Black families in the 80’s, we were on our way north to go skiing. My uncle, a corporate lawyer for an insurance company, made decent money but always lived modestly. His skis were used, as were the poles and all the other accoutrements, not because he was afraid of making an investment in something that he may or may not be sticking with but simply because he was thrifty.
The not so gentle rocking of the accelerator notwithstanding, it was exciting to be going and doing this thing that even some of my more solidly middle class white friends had yet to do. It was a small coup to have an accomplished member of the family, who spoke eloquently about politics and culture be my entre into this very white world.
And then there was my aunt. We had a history of getting along and then not, of sparring over petty things and being able to have many of the same conversations in the same animated and intelligent fashion. Auntie was an enigma in many ways. A hypochondriacally, mercurial woman who in many ways always felt like she needed to play a perpetual game of catch up with the world. She’s both infuriating and gentle, poised and clumsy and sometimes all of the above. She is also dying.
As suddenly as some things seem to come on, this one truly seemed sudden.
Other family members were with her as she went in for her initial surgery, an unrelated thyroid procedure, and said she’d been so happy and full of life afterwards even with the cancer diagnosis. That was short lived.
I visited her last night after my mother called me and said she wasn’t doing well. I found her lying on her side almost motionless and only able to respond by opening her eyes slightly and making short barely distinguishable vocalizations. My son and I sat with her for a few minutes, trying to say what we could, the last few I love you’s and thank you’s she’d likely ever hear from us, and then we left.
Regret is a feeling I’m familiar with. I feel the same regret I did when my grandmother passed away when I was in college. Regret that I hadn’t been more attentive, more THERE, more aware. Regret that I had my head so far up my own ass that I couldn’t see that there isn’t always another holiday or another barbeque or another…. Regret that I didn’t make that swing by that I promised for weeks and weeks….
There is never enough time. And that knowledge can drive us to do things that seem stupid and impulsive but at the same time also lead us to other things, better and more fulfilling ones. Ignoring what is directly in front of you should never be one of those choices. It takes a moment to redirect your route, leave a few minutes early or simply call, not doing so leaves the door open to regret.
The time between our ski trips and now feels like an eternity, and in a way it is, but now, with regret in the middle, the time between last week and today feels like forever as well.
In some cases, Time flies only if you let it go.
Yeah, this one really sucks.