Posted by: angelnorman | January 19, 2009

Happy MLK Day.

When I was Nick’s age, I lived with my grandparents in a predominantly black neighborhood in East Nashville. Inglewood, to be specific. I went to school with all sorts of people in all shades of color, and I played often with children in my neighborhood. I never noticed the difference in color, either. They were simply my friends. But I can clearly remember coming in from playing with my friends and hearing my grandfather refer to my brown-skinned pals using the n-word.

Now my grandfather passed away when I was six. Though my family has throughout the years reminded me of all his good qualities repeatedly, not a single one of them replaces this memory I have of my grandfather as pretty much racist. He taught me to walk straight (I was seriously pigeon-toed as a child and a little delayed in walking properly), he taught me to read and write. He taught me to excel in school, really, and he taught me to use my imagination to transform my world. I thought of him as a saint then, sure, but I can clearly recall his disdain for his neighbors, too. It makes me question his character. I wish I would have once been able to ask why he felt the way he felt. I know it has something to do with how he was raised. I get this, I do. But still it remains a shameful part of my memories of him that I wish I could forget. I wish I could forget that such a wonderfully smart and kind and loving man could be capable of prejudice and downright ignorance.

Throughout my childhood, I was faced with prejudice and racism in some form. I wasn’t allowed to date anyone whose skin wasn’t the same color as mine, despite the fact that Kelvin Dickerson was incredibly hot and I felt LUCKY when I learned that he had a thing for me. Interracial dating had such a terrible stigma attached to it. I couldn’t listen to too much rap or dress a certain way without being called names for trying to be something other than white. Whatever that means. Then there is the whole reason I left my (non-racist) grandfather’s church– because one of the deacons thanked all of the “colored people” from the neighborhood for coming to our VBS service after the youth group had worked so hard to reach out to the predominantly black neighborhood and get children who needed to hear about Jesus’s love for EVERYONE to attend our VBS in the first place.

You should see their church now. Lots of color there, it’s beautiful, and it’s indication of how I feel the way the world should be.

I vowed from the age of 16 on, though, that my kids would never attend a church that was all one colored people. My child would never attend a school that was all one color. I have always wanted my children to be raised to never ever see skin color, but just to know people for who they are. Color doesn’t define us, character does. Our kindness does. Our love does!

MLK day is very important to me this year because I feel, despite what Mike says, that Nick is of an age to know about how love and peace can triumph over hate and violence. I feel it extremely important that my kid know how far we’ve come in such a short time and how much more we need to do. So despite Mike saying he was too young to know about MLK Jr’s life and death, I sat down today to explain to my child what was the significance of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr’s birthday and why our nation celebrated it as a national holiday. While I wasn’t sure exactly what road to take, one of my BFFs had recently told me that she explained it to her children basically by saying that MLK promoted sharing and no fighting. I thought that was pretty genius, so I ran with it. You gotta do what works.

I started out by asking him if he ever realized that some people have different color skin than himself, that some people might have brown skin or yellow skin or even red skin, but to be completely honest with you, I’m not sure he ever has noticed this. At least, I know for a fact he has never once pointed this out to me or his father, he has never asked us questions. If I might be so bold here, I personally feel that he has only accepted that people are people. Races don’t even factor in to his thought.

I trudged on, explaining to him about how people with brown skin weren’t allowed to eat in restaurants that weren’t made for them, how they couldn’t go to school or church with people of whiter skin. He asked me why, and I said it was because some people felt that they were too different. Then I played the I Have A Dream speech for him, and explained that Dr. MLK Jr was just a man who wanted us to all be friends and share with one another and love one another, just like Jesus would have wanted us to do. Despite my better judgment, I told Nick that MLK was shot and killed.

“Who shot him?” he asked me. I told him it was someone who didn’t like him. “Was it that guy?” He pointed to the guys beside Dr. King in the video. No, I said. It was someone who didn’t believe in love and fairness. Then I started to cry. I cried and I cried, and Nick hugged me and asked me why I was sad.

I don’t know why it makes me sad, but it does. It makes me sad that we’ve been through so much and still there is so much division especially here in the south. It makes me sad that it took 40 years before our country could even recognize that a black man could be capable of leading us. It makes me sad that people waste so much time with hate. But it makes me happy, too. It makes me happy that his dream has come true, that love can unite us all, that change is something we knew we needed then, so we as one people fought for it and look! We got it. We changed the world. And we’re doing it again by ushering in a new president, and by raising children to be thoughtful of what we’ve been through and mindful of where we can go if our hearts are in the right place. We’re doing it every day.

“As we walk, we must make the pledge that we shall always march ahead. We cannot turn back.”

It amazes me that all it took was one man… one God-fearing man to inspire a nation to rise up and stand for the freedom of all. And personally, I think that man would be proud of how far we’ve come.

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Responses

  1. awesome!

  2. Oh Lord. This reminds me of when Miles came home from mothers’ day out with the “wisdom” that someone else’s child must have told her: that Jesus blessed us with light skin because he loved us the most!!! I about DIED right there in my car!


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