Today marks the 40th anniversary of the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, where Martin Luther King Jr. and so many other great orators and civil rights leader spoke of the desire for true equality.
I have been listening to NPR’s Tavis Smiley show the past few days as they cover this historic day and while I am not a Tavis fan, his guests have been interesting and informative. The process is one that all Americans should be interested in, even those of us too young to remember, or too jaded to care.
I have struggled with the question of “what is the cure” for racism since I became aware of the issue long ago when prime time television aired Alex Haley’s “Roots” in 1977. I was about seven or eight at the time and living in rural West Virginia where there were virtually no people of color and therefore the issue of race was, well, never an issue.
I remember watching that program from my room, peering out through the slit in my door that gave me just enough of a view to see mostly what was going on. It was foreign and familiar at the same time.
I had seen violence and pain in my life, although not to that extent, but the whole notion of a group of people being systematically tortured, isolated, and alienated from their loved ones seemed so alien to me. My mind couldn’t wrap around it for weeks. I had images of these poor slaves being ripped from their loved ones, beaten, raped and mistreated by people who looked like me, merely because they were black.
I didn’t want my mother to know I was up past my bedtime, so I was afraid to talk about the images, but they haunted me, and they still do. I can vividly recall Kunta Kinte being beaten on the tree (more that once in his struggle for freedom), babies being snatch from mothers and families being torn apart.
I would like to think that we have come a long way since that time, and that we are a more enlightened species for having inflicted this kind of persecution on another member of our race – the human race – but sadly racism still exists in its most fervent and oppressive form.
I suggested once that I thought in time, with interracial couples bringing interracial children into the world, this might erase the plague of racism – but that would require EVERYONE to have an open mind and heart. Forty years is a long time, but merely a drop in the bucket in terms of evolution of a species.
With hatred, violence, mistrust and prejudice still lurking in every corner of the world, I have to ask what I as a white person can do to make racism become a thing of the past? We all play a part, and I just keep wondering what my part in it is.