The Measure of a Man: A Non-discussion of Race in America

Earlier today, someone expressed disappointment because I described another person on a social network as ‘some white guy.’   I referred to him as ‘some white guy’ because I didn’t appreciate the consistently erroneous posts he was making regarding Black crime in America as well as other comments on various threads.

Apparently, my use of the term made her “lose” a modicum of respect for me. I kind of felt like I was supposed to feel guilty and apologize for using a bad word or something! I responded personally but that wasn’t enough for me. So, I did a status update but somehow I couldn’t respond to her in 150 characters without sounding snide or smug, so I decided to blog it out! 

Her comments, and the recent hullabaloo surrounding Glenn Beck’s MLK Celebration, got me to thinking about race in this country.  Not so much about why we need to start or continue the dialogue but really more about why we haven’t gotten to the stage when the dialogue is no longer necessary?

With the election of our first Black President, not since the days of the ‘Black Codes’ and ‘Jim Crow’ laws have Americans been more polarized by our racial differences. But the good, and the bad, thing is that it is no longer just a matter of Black and White. Today, we navigate the racial highway with Middle Easterners, Hispanics, Asians, and a rainbow of nationalities, colors and creeds. So, why do people still feel the conversation is only between Caucasians and Negros?

Two major historical events have made this a two-man fight for all time. The first event was Abraham Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation freeing American slaves. The second happened on summer’s day, in 1968, when one Dr. Reverend Martin Luther King stood on the Mall of Washington and gave, what is undoubtedly one of the most moving and stirring sermons on freedom in history, his “I Have a Dream” speech.

Often White’s, especially conservatives, are proud to point to the fact that it was Abraham Lincoln, a Republican, who freed the slaves. Not to pour water on anyone’s party but the reason for freeing the slaves was to economically hurt the ten rogue states in the south and thwart their efforts by eliminating the free labor that was helping them gain their (successful at one point)  independence from the United States. It didn’t help when Abe made them compensate former slaves for their work.

Black’s hold Dr. King in particular esteem for his work, and the ultimate sacrifice of his life, in an effort to gain equal rights under the law for the nation’s Black population. Never mind the fact that King was  not the first man or woman to lose his life before and during this era but in was in actuality one of many who marched, fought, were jailed and killed.

But, just as White’s don’t own the legacy of  President Abraham Lincoln, Blacks don’t own the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King.  If one truly takes the time to read King’s speeches you would find that, although his mission was to the Black Community, his ministry was to the world.

Dr. King understood that racism and oppression were not uniquely American institutions reserved specifically for Blacks and when he said the now famous words, “”Free at last! Free at last! Thank God Almighty, we are free at last!” he made sure to include all of God’s children, black men and white men, Jews and Gentiles, Protestants and Catholics.

Reverend King’s ‘Dream’ was not one in which people ignored color and race for he knew that God created us in a variety of beautiful hues and tones  on purpose.  His ‘Dream’ was one in which the color of one’s skin would not be an indicator for how we decide human capability and destiny; one in which we did not ignore our differences but could find a way to celebrate our commonalities.

Today so many people think that if they claim to be colorblind, this will relieve them from the burden pursuing the real issues that divide us.  Those issues are not apparent on the outside, but reside deep within; where our spirit rises up to meet our humanity. 

But, are they truly colorblind?  Do they tense up when a group of young Blacks enter an elevator or pass them on the street — while patting themselves on the back because they have a few Black friends and neighbors?  One wonders if a group of Asians or young White teens were to approach, would they be just as apprehensive?   Store clerks still raise their eyebrows and look nervously about at Black shoppers, no matter the expense of their garb.  Even Black clerks are more prone to be polite to White, Asian or Middle Eastern shoppers than they are to their brothers and sisters of similar color.

Only today, at Fernbank Science Center in Atlanta, a security guard denied a group of Black daycare students the right to eat at lunch tables inside the facility while allowing a group of White children the privilege of sitting at those same tables and enjoying their lunch. The Executive Director called it a case of “bad” Customer Service and closed the conversation.

Claiming to be “colorblind” is NOT the opposite of being a racist. And being ‘politically correct’ does not mean you are not biased in some way.  Resting easy with another despite outward appearances such as color and being able to openly be yourself within any culture and among any people group without fear of respite — are the real barometers — not some arbitrary pretense over language.