Thursday, January 13, 2011

I have a dream. . .

Growing up in the rural Midwest I was mostly a passive observer to the civil rights movement.  Still, in 1972 someone in South Dakota commissioned, for the all-state chorus, a choral work based on the words of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.'s "I Have a Dream" speech.  I don't remember who wrote the music but I clearly remember how it inspired my 16-year-old heart. It was nuanced to the cadence of Dr. King's oratory, but classical enough for a bunch of white Lutherans, Catholics and Methodists from the prairies to execute. It was fitting music for a beautiful vision of the future. 

Now I live in the South, and as I watch old video of Dr. King and all the momentous events of those days I have a context for it. And I know people who grew up in the places where the reality of those flickering images occurred.  And I have spent a lot of time in Chicago recently.  There, I  stood in a museum just blocks from the actual site of the 1968 Democratic Convention and watched black and white video of Chet Huntley and David Brinkley and a very young Ted Koppel report from the confusion and fear of that moment. I remember it well; it seemed the world had gone mad. And this time, no longer young and living on the prairie, isolated and insulated from such events, I watched it again with new eyes. 

Dr. King's speech is beautiful.  The picture he paints of his dream is like Isaiah's pictures of lions laying with lambs and children playing with venomous snakes.  So much better than reality. . . so much to wish for!  Of all the dreams he recounts in his speech, the one that gives me the most pause is this:
"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."
Can we make, at least, this dream come true?  Can we look at all little children and see only their character?  Can we look at our children, and the children of Haiti and Central America and Canada, and see only their character and not the color of their skin?

Last week a pre-school teacher told of her sadness about teaching the concept of "different" to children.  Until they are taught that some people are different, they are unaware of the difference, or, if they notice, entirely matter of fact about it.  I have blue eyes and you have green eyes, period.  Bias is a learned behavior; it becomes so internalized that we don't even notice it.  We've probably all had the experience of having a child bring a friend home from school who we know a lot about (in my French class, plays flute in the band, dad works at IBM, lives in XYZ subdivision, needs help with math) only to be unexpectedly confronted with a child of a race different from our own.  Unless we teach them differently, most kids only notice the HUMAN race. 

I believe, along with Dr. King, that this is the way God sees us: as the human race.  And as individuals.  We are each unique, yet all God's children.  Let's treat each other that way - and let our kids keep doing what comes naturally!

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