This has always been more than a day off for me, and I say that not just because I chose to work today. As a kid it was more than a long weekend, although, truthfully on the day itself the significance was lost in the whole not having to go to school thing. I remember learning about Martin Luther King and the Civil Rights movement at school, being an imaginative kid I used to picture myself traveling back in time to march on Washington myself. I still remember the disappointment of being excluded from the school’s black history month parade through the halls, feeling left out of something so weighty and important.
But really, I had no idea what it was about. How could I? My elementary school class may have been lacking in many blond haired blue eyed english speaking kids, and I often felt different and left out because of that, but really, that was nothing. I may not have the idyllic existence, but none of my life experiences have ever warranted a march, a speech, a nationwide movement.
I owe a lot to Martin Luther King, the US is a better place for having had his influence, I benefit from that. I was able to make friends from a wide variety of backgrounds and creeds at my schools and still receive an adequate education. The world is a better place now, closer to the ideal I wish for. I didn’t even have to give up an ounce of my privilege.
That is the line in the sand, the reason I will never understand exactly what King truly meant. I would have been privileged in the post civil rights world, and I am now. Nothing I have ever experienced, not even the worst or most unfair or oppressive moments of my life compare to what non-white people used to go through, and still go through. Yes I can have tragedy, I can be discriminated against based on my appearance, background, gender or even skin color, but I have never lived in a country whose highest levels of institution are inherently against me based on my color. The closest I come to understanding that is experiencing sexism in its various forms, but even as a straight, feminine, white woman, I am pretty well off on the oppression scale.
So King to me has always been a symbol, of hope and the dream of a better world. it is a mark of how far we all still need to go to achieve that dream that I can appreciate King as a symbol, while for others there is a heritage of blood and tears that needs more than a symbol, that King’s influence actually changed how they were treated, how they lived and worked and died. That our country still needs Martin Luther King.
I am not sure if this post is appropriately reverent for the day, maybe it is and I have been thinking too much lately…. But I see a lot of people on facebook and pinterest sharing pithy quotes and talking about the contribution King made to Americans. Which kind of bugs me. It doesn’t appreciate the real contribution, because the contribution to Americans, as white america defines that term, is merely symbolic. And mere symbolism is insufficient
In the end, it doesn’t matter what Dr King means to me as a symbol, what people need to hear is in this article. That will give you a better idea of the gravity of King.