The Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial in Washington, DC was dedicated today. The fight for equality for people of all races has been long, and there are still some problems to address. But from a personal perspective, I can say that a lot of progress has been made in three generations.
My father was very prejudiced. At times he had friends from different ethnic groups, but he retained his stereotypes about races in general. Fortunately his views were not expressed often and I was rarely exposed to them as a child, even when race riots occurred in parts of Milwaukee, where I grew up. I have lived in a mostly white world, but as a Christian and a scientist, I know all humans come from a common ancestor. In my small town, I worship each Sunday with Latinos, Native Americans, other whites, and their children – many of whom are bi-racial. (I actually had to think about which racial groups make up our congregation because my focus is our shared values rather than any differences.) Any small discomfort I might feel with people of other ethnic groups is concern about inadvertently offending them if I am not familiar with their culture.
My children grew up in a very different world. Civil rights and anti-segregation laws had been in place for a couple of decades. Here in northern Nevada, many of their classmates were of Latino heritage. My fair-skinned daughter married a man of mostly Filipino ancestry. They have a handsome little boy with golden skin and black eyes. My father was alive when my grandson was born, but did not live long enough to actually meet him. It’s too bad because that very personal interaction might have changed Dad’s mind about race. My grandson lives in a truly multi-cultural city. When he speaks about “My friends Matsuo, Dominick and Kelana . . ,” he does not recognize the ethnicity in the names. He never talks about his friends‘ skin color, only about the fun they have together.
There are still some ethnic groups around the world that try to force their cultural or religious ideas on others, but in the US we generally accept diverse cultures and ideas. With civil rights for all races now enshrined in US law, politicians should quit using the “race card”. Asians, Blacks, Caucasians, Latinos, and Native Americans have the right to assemble with whomever they choose. But ethnic caucus groups in Congress and commentary on how unusual it is for a black American to seek the Republican presidential nomination just reinforce the old divisions. For the most part, Americans look beyond race and we can thank Rev. King for his peaceful advancement of that ideal.