Last month, we paid tribute to one of the most influential Americans of my generation, indeed, of any time in our country's history, the Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr. As a "child of the 60s," I remember vividly the struggles led by Dr. King and clearly can recall the year my school in Birmingham, Alabama was integrated. In contrast to the violence, boycotting, and “standing in the doorway” histrionics at some schools, we — in the middle-class suburb of Fairfield — had none of that. Our integration with black students, which occurred in 1967 (my junior year of high school), was not only uneventful, it was a truly remarkable time in my life and the lives of my classmates.
Our school and the little suburban world we lived in was enriched — culturally, athletically, and educationally — with the addition of black students. We all grew — as students and people — with the experience of integration after years of segregation. The black students I went to school with were interested in the same things I was — an education. We studied together, we sang together, we played athletics together, and we all grew together. And those experiences were all due to the efforts of Dr. King and others who broke down barriers and, through civil disobedience, fought to become a truly equal and integral part of American society.
As I think back on those stressful but incredibly enlightening times for me, personally, I also look around today bewildered. I wonder about how Dr. King would view the world we live in today. In our times of "political correctness," I wonder how Dr. King would view our society's "progress" toward his goal of integration and racial equality. I think he might be surprised at what he sees. Dr. King fought hard and, ultimately, died for a society that was "color blind." I believe Dr. King wanted one society with equal rights and equal opportunity for all, regardless of race or religion.
As I look around, I see a more pernicious form of segregation today than I saw 30 years ago. It appears to me that we are moving farther and farther away from a "color blind" society and closer and closer to a more subtle, but no less distinct, form of segregation.
To make my point, let me give you a "what if" to think about. What if Rupert Murdock or some other non-black multimillionaire announced to the world, on Martin Luther King Day 2006, that he was starting a new television network. This television network would present programming directed to the white demographic, specifically white adults between the ages of 18 and 49. This network would be called "White Entertainment Television" with the call letters, "WET." The cable and satellite network would also be presenting the first of an annual "Miss White America Pageant" in the summer. In the fall, programming would also include the first of an annual "Image Awards" ceremony which would honor white Americans who have made significant contributions to American white culture. What if, in making his announcement, the fictitious owner stated: