Today, as legions honor the memory of the great Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. I reflect on how far we’ve come since his societal contributions and how far we have to go. I think it’s safe to say that we’ve only scratched the surface of his great vision for our world. Though society is vastly different than it was in the 60s, progress is often marred by pockets of hatred, violence and intolerance that is frequently sensationalized by media spectacle; so much so that ethnic rights and human rights are skewed. Of course, any issue that effects society is a human issue.
There’s more that prompted my retrospect than the commemoration of Dr. King’s birthday. Last week as my husband and I arrived for my prenatal appointment I noticed the distasteful demeanor of a fellow patient. There were only three scattered empty seats in the waiting area, not unusual in such a busy office. My husband and I sat on opposite sides of the room. I noticed the patient beside me immediately shifting in her seat, practically rolling her eyes to herself as I sat. I didn’t think too much of it until the woman was called for her appointment. She gathered her coat, walked across the room and placed it in an empty seat beside a young woman engrossed in texting on her phone. She shot me a bitter glance before heading to the examination room. My husband and I were equally baffled at first. Then it hit me, I was the only black person in the room.
Though it wasn’t the first time I’ve endured the sting of racism, I was taken aback by the incident since it’s not something I go through very often; or perhaps I’ve learned to tune certain things out over the years. My emotions were mixed, but disappointment and anger were at the fore. I had done nothing to offend the woman or prompt such a nasty display of contempt. Prior to that day we had never met and I think it’s safe to say we mutually hope never to meet again. The incident lingered in my mind and eventually I began to pay heed to the fact that just as she didn’t know me, I didn’t know her either. And just as she judged me based on my appearance, I judged her by her act of ignorance.
History shapes who we are and clearly there was some part of that woman’s history that engrained in her such prejudice which limits her on a social and personal scale. The woman was roughly in her late 60s to early 70s, so there’s a good chance she was indoctrinated into adopting a biased perspective during her youth. Then again, her aversion to my ethnicity may have stemmed from a prior incident(s) during which she or a loved one was wronged, or perceived to have been wronged by a person(s) of a certain ethnic group. Either way, racism is a devastating condition no matter what climate it spawns from and I fear will never be fixed as long as education and social interaction remains disproportionate.
It’s a shame, really; it seems the more progress we make technologically, socially too many people are stuck in retrograde, backsliding from the great vision Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. shared with the world in 1963. There’s so much we can accomplish as a society if only more people would get their head out of the sand and become more open-minded.
This whole thing has led me to ponder my unborn daughter’s future. At present, I have no idea what she will look like or how her appearance may affect her down the road. Whether she resembles me, my husband or a balanced combination of both, I know it’s important to teach her about the grim reality of racism and that the act of it knows no color even if the beholder does. Yet, I know it’s just as important to demonstrate to her that not everyone sees the world through its warped and narrow scope, that the world would be bland if we were all the same. I’ll teach her that there is only one race—the human race—and that ethnicity is basically a variation on a theme. By doing so I hope to do my part in offsetting the perpetuity of intolerance.