I’m white, so obviously I will never understand what it means to be black in this country. The “dual consciousness” that Du Bois described a hundred years ago in The Souls of Black Folk is captured by this passage:
One ever feels his two-ness,—an American, a Negro; two souls, two thoughts, two unreconciled strivings; two warring ideals in one dark body, whose dogged strength alone keeps it from being torn asunder.
I have to wonder if taking a “day off” from everything is the right way to commemorate someone’s life so dedicated to active change.
We have also come to this hallowed spot to remind America of the fierce urgency of now. This is no time to engage in the luxury of cooling off or to take the tranquilizing drug of gradualism. Now is the time to make real the promises of democracy. Now is the time to rise from the dark and desolate valley of segregation to the sunlit path of racial justice. Now is the time to lift our nation from the quick sands of racial injustice to the solid rock of brotherhood. Now is the time to make justice a reality for all of God’s children.
The rhetorical sledgehammer of anaphora aside, to me, that doesn’t ask us to take a day off from work, file out of the classroom, close down businesses, grind everything to a hault. Is this holiday meant as a reflection on our progress? If so, that’s all well and good, but isn’t progress measured by action, not reflection?
I didn’t live during the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s, so I can’t say for sure whether we’ve made any real progress. What I can say is that I had no concept of race until kindergarten when we studied Black history during Black History Month. The special focus placed on achievements of African Americans led me to ask questions of my parents that I had never thought to ask before. “Why don’t we celebrate a Spanish history month?” “Why don’t we celebrate an Italian history month?” and yes, even this: “Why don’t we celebrate a White history month?” I was taught by my public elementary school how to differentiate between races. Although, the argument could be made that if I hadn’t learned it there, I would have eventually learned it elsewhere, with arguably more negative results. But that’s all conjecture at this point.
I also find it funny that the NAACP employs a blitzkrieg tactic against town councils in an effort to rename a street in every city to “Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd”. Everyone remembers the big stink last year when they changed the name of Airport Road. The town council felt better about themselves for doing something they could easily do in the name of racial progress. The businesses on Airport were angered by the added expense of changing their advertisements, listings, etc. to the new address. And to the average citizen, there was some confusion brought on by the fact that there was another street already called MLK not too far away.
What I’m trying to say in a roundabout way with all this rambling is that I don’t think we do a very good job commemorating Martin Luther King Jr. What’s the right answer? I don’t know. There probably isn’t one. I don’t know if declaring a national holiday quite gets it. What happens tomorrow? We blink, and then go back to the same disinterested state we were in the day before. So as for me, I’m going to use today to catch up on reading for class and prepare for an upcoming Mock Trial tournament. Somehow, I think Dr. King would have wanted it that way.
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.”
Dr. King’s entire speech is available at http://www.mecca.org/~crights/dream.html