Friday, April 04, 2008

A Dream Deferred

Note:  I have been composing this in my head all day.  Whether that will translate to a good blog post or not, I have no idea.

When I was seven, we went to Walt Disney World for the first time and, though I was too young to really enjoy World Showcase, we (of course) visited every one, and every attraction.

We also bought the "soundtrack," which I listened to often after that, as a way -- I think -- to remember the trip itself (I often visually 'flash' to where I first heard a song when I hear it again).

On that song was "Golden Dreams," from the American Pavilion.  Amidst the lyrics, there are audio clips of important moments in American history.

(Interestingly enough, there are no recreations -- anything that happened before video is shown with Ken Burns-ified photos and dramatic readings are used before audio clips.)

In any event, among them are the usual suspects, including "the Eagle has landed" and JFK's "ask not" speech.

And, of course, this:  "I have a dream this afternoon . . . that the brotherhood of man will become a reality in this day . . . [a]nd with this faith."

I was seven.  I had no idea who Martin Luther King, Jr. was, nor did I have any real understanding of racism, the Civil Rights movement, nor even, really, what he was saying, except that something about the conviction in his voice told me he wanted a Good Thing.

I am in many ways a stereotypical white Valley why would those words resonate so deeply with me?

Well...I'm a stereotypical white girl except...

...except that I'm semi-fluent in Spanish (and reactions to that are always funny)


...except that out of all the American poetry I've ever read, it was Langston Hughes that I ended up going out and buying (I much prefer English poetry) -- it's Langston Hughes that I borrowed from for the title of this post.

I'm sure other people have posted reflections on King's life and his dream, but I thought I'd share a slightly different perspective.

In his famous I Have a Dream speech, King referred to wishing for a future of equality of Catholics and Protestants, Jews and Gentiles -- but the primary focus of his work was Civil Rights.  That is, removing the systematic barriers placed in front of African Americans throughout society.

Or, as Angel, my sixth grade angel, said, "He wanted...the have the same school."

Being the stereotypical white girl, there are no people of color in my family (that we know about, at any rate).

But there are people with disabilities (cognitive and, more recently, physical), people of Jewish heritage, people who have converted to Judaism (one of these days, when go for Hanukkah, I will remember more than the first two lines of the candle lighting prayer), and people that are gay.

And I would suggest that for the majority of the groups listed above, King's dream of equality is a long way off.

How often do you hear people casually tossing about the word r*tard?  How often do you hear people using the f word (not the verb)?  Think of the 2000 presidential campaign, and how much hand-writing there was about the fact that Mr. Lieberman was Jewish.  How much incredulity there was that he -- gasp -- walked to Temple on Saturdays.

How often do you see someone using a wheelchair and immediately assume they are less capable than someone who does not?  I've seen that myself with Patrick at Disney World -- where he is treated with near universal respect at Disneyland (people speaking directly to him, etc.), that was very much not the case at Disney World when he was using his wheelchair.

This is not the place for a political rant, really, so I'm not going to get into my rant about gay marriage (other than to say that allowing the civil contract aspect of marriage as far as the government is concerned should absolutely be legal and denying two people a marriage license because they are both the same gender is sexual discrimination).

But the fact of the matter is that there is still a lot of discrimination and institutionalized inequality in America.  And while it's fine -- and necessary -- to take time on anniversaries like today to ponder race relations in America, it's just as necessary to, at some point, examine other areas of inequality as well.

King talked about his children going to school with other children.

I'm fortunate to teach at a school in a district where mainstreaming, if not inclusion, is the norm, and inclusion is not all that rare either -- but that's far from the case elsewhere.

Infinite diversity, in infinite combinations, as Spock would say.

Anniversaries like today prompt us to consider one kind of diversity, but I'd like to argue that we consider, that we reflect on, all diversity.

It's trite, but people often say that life would be boring if we were all the same.  But, you know, trite sayings become trite and cliched because they're true.  Of course, trite sayings become trite because we stop actually thinking about what they mean and just accept them as truisms.

Today's a day to remember Dr. King's dream, and to reflect on what we can do to make it come true.

In college, I took a class called the Holocaust in Literature and Film.  The class itself was fascinating, but one of the assignments was to write a paper on any aspect of the Holocaust.

I chose to write about the killing (euphemistically called the euthanasia) of people with disabilities in Germany.  Something like 98% of Germans with disabilities were killed.

The closing paragraph opened with a variation of the following: "The Holocaust was, to be certain, a Jewish tragedy, but it was not only a Jewish tragedy.  It is important to make sure that all victims of the Nazis are remembered and honored."

The professor took great exception to that notion.  She was fine with the paper, but she wanted the euthanasia aspect separated from the Shoah (I'm nitpicking linguistically here, but the idea was that the Holocaust itself, as an idea, encompassed only the killing of Jews, which is why I used the Hebrew term for the latter).

It was the only time in my school career that I refused to make a change in a paper requested by a professor, and I was graded down for it.

So it should come as no surprise that even on the anniversary of Dr. King's death, I choose to focus on broader areas of tolerance and equality.

Infinite diversity, in infinite combinations.

1 comment:

Amie said...

For the record, it translated into a blog post that was better than good.