Monday, January 16, 2012

Musings on Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

I didn't realize that my day to blog would fall on Martin Luther King, Jr. day. Perhaps that's because I haven't gotten this particular holiday off in over a dozen years. (Which isn't all that big of a surprise, after all my job is in IT and we typically do our biggest work on days when no one else is working.)

So, I started looking at some of his quotes. Everyone knows this one and it remains my absolute favorite:

"I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character."
Martin Luther King, Jr.

I was young enough when he was killed to not really get the importance of his death. Kids tend to be too self-absorbed to get some of the bigger events in their life. At the time I was more concerned about my math homework and recess than anything else. It wasn't until later on that I figured out how important he was.

This quote always gets me thinking about doors opening and paths not taken:

"All progress is precarious, and the solution of one problem brings us face to face with another problem."
Martin Luther King, Jr.

There are times when I'm involved in various groups that I wonder if Dr. King truly understood what he started for the rest of us. The Stonewall Riots came just a year later, helping bring the homosexual community together to take on the oppressive laws throughout the US (of which many are still on the books to my great dismay). Just two years later the first Gay Pride marches were held in LA, Chicago, and New York.

I believe our lawmakers have tried to make laws that will protect us all from discrimination, I'm just not sure they work well. Perhaps that's because some lawyers want to interpret the intent of the law, while others look for loopholes. Why don't we try simpler language? For instance: "A company is to interview all skillfully qualified candidates." (Already the lawyer in my head has a dozen questions). Can't we just use common sense?

The year that Dr. King died, women were given protections from sex discrimination by an Executive Order, and affirmative action plans were required for hiring women. A year later, my home state of California, adopted the "No Fault" divorce law, allowing divorces by mutal consent. In contradiction, men still had legal control of whether or not their wives worked and where they would live - in California of all places! Luckily that law has since been axed.  This was the year I started paying attention to women's rights as I had one grandfather who constantly told me what professions were "appropriate" for girls, of which a Veterinarian was not one, and another one who told me girls could be anything we wanted to and that my chavenistic grandfather was full of it.

"Almost always, the creative dedicated minority has made the world better.
Martin Luther King, Jr. "

This quote always brings to mind several friends who are talented, outspoken people, many of who are Gay. While minorites and women have come a long way, the Gay community as a whole hasn't seen as much progress. And the sad part is, they've been there for the rest of us all along. It is fairly well understood that making progress for one oppressed group helps bring the other groups forward as well. I was quoted over the summer as saying something along the lines of "It is now our time to stand up for the LGBT community, as they were there for women in the 70's". I do feel responsibility to be an ally and to help move understanding of this community forward. And it makes me incredibly happy to see the current generation being more tolerant in general when it comes to orientation, skin color and gender.

However, I don't think we are quite at the point where people are judged for the content of their character. We seem to be sliding backwards on that one. Perhaps technology is to blame for as we put more and more focus on what people look like (regardless of skin color) and less on who they are. Televeision, YouTube, and the anonymity of the internet, have made instant judgements incredibly easy, without forcing people to take the time to truly think things through.  Bullying has skyrocketed and too many teens and young adults are committing suicide over violent vitriolic posts on social media sites.

Still, on this particular holiday I have great hope that someday Dr. King may be able to look down and smile upon a nation that finally accepts people as they are and for who they are. Even though we may be taking a few steps back, we are still miles down the road from where Dr. King started.


Patricia Kiyono said...

Lots of food for thought here, JC. Thanks for sharing.

Andrea Dickinson said...

Great post, JC! Thanks for sharing.