Martin Luther King, Jr. died the year I was born. In the time that passed between those two events and now, a profoundly different attitude towards the equality of human beings has been embraced by generations. It’s been marketed, promoted, believed, and thankfully, celebrated.
What hasn’t happened, unfortunately, is total equality and elimination of racism as an idea that proliferates society and poisons human interaction.
To be perfectly straightforward, I was blind to this hard fact until I returned to university in 2011, where I began studying humanities. I believe in a day when racism no longer exists, but we are not yet there—not even close.
“I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men are created equal.”
Martin Luther King, Jr.
Martin Luther King, Jr. put forth one essential reality (among many), that human beings are created equal. There has never been a day in my life when I thought anything different. Human is human is human. That’s not to say I’ve been a saint, but it is to say that I have always been stunned when I read about or witnessed people of one race treating those of another with less respect than we all deserve. I’ve thought this way as long as I can recall. I was born with this belief.
In school, I’ve discovered that a different reality exists in this country on the topic of racism. People still to this very day bury their heads in the sand and pretend it doesn’t exist. But it does.
All you have to do to experience racism is change your skin color (admittedly difficult), or simply ask someone who has experienced it themselves. It’s not something that ‘happened back then.’ It’s happening right now, today, and people will share their experiences if you ask and actively listen. It happens to African-Americans from all walks of life, from the downtrodden to the highest reaches of social status, and it happens to people of other ethnicities. It’s not just about race, though that is perhaps the most visible form of racism present today. If you ask and really listen, you may gain a new perspective that inspires action and positive change, or at the very least a greater awareness of how it impacts your life and those of your neighbors.
Before reentering university, I had never been exposed to the idea that being born ‘white’ was a privilege, but it is. Now I see, and I’m affected by it. It’s not because I have privilege, though by accounts of those who are not white, I do. I am affected because others do not have the exact same privilege—because equality is not universal. I am affected because I have always seen different skin color as something rich and beautiful, but now I see that much of society regards it in the opposite manner. And thinking back, I have experienced this at close range, and it has affected me. And I have fought against it without even realizing I was fighting.
This brings me to another essential Martin Luther King, Jr. idea, that we must work for our freedom (thank you, Seth Godin, for mentioning this today). Working is fighting, peacefully. Working is finding a way to promote ideas you find meaningful, valuable and just.
The French philosopher, Voltaire, said, “All the citizens of a state cannot be equally powerful, but they may be equally free.”
Power is personal. Power is what you believe it to be. You gain power by believing, finding a way to pursue your beliefs, and working to live by them.
Equality, on the other hand, is not handed out. It is not our place to grant equality. Equality is each person’s right from the moment they are born. And where it is obviously not present, where we can see the injustice of inequality exists in our society, it is our responsibility as humans to not bury our heads in the sand, but to support our fellow human beings in their struggle for attaining equality.
I don’t mean to preach. This is me living by my beliefs.