Monday, January 15, 2007

In The Name of Love

Happy Martin Luther King Day!

There were a plethora of MLK celebrations and commemorations around the Bay Area today. Admittedly, I didn't attend a single one of them, but they were the focus of a good portion of my work day. Yes, I had to work today. Given the industry I have chosen, I always work on MLK Day, as well as virtually every other holiday. The way I look at it, however, the work of Martin Luther King contributed to the freedom I now have to choose whatever I career strikes my fancy. So it's all good.

In fact, if you think about it, it wasn't so long ago that a woman like me... biracial with an Ivy League education and a relatively high profile job... was quite the rarity. So thank you for that, Martin.

All the events today were a far cry from what MLK Day was like when I lived in New England. For the four years I was in college, we were always on break in January, so I was in L.A. (or Scotland, as was the case my junior year) for the holiday. But the four and a half years I lived in Providence after graduation provided me with quite the education. I mean absolutely no disrespect to anyone from New England or anyone who currently lives there, but as I recall, every MLK Day brought with it a lovely and oh-so enlightened debate as to whether the occasion was a valid holiday. I specifically remember said debate gracing the front page of the Providence Journal at least one year. In that article, of course black people were arguing in favor of the holiday, white people against it.

Nice, huh? Very unifying and very much in the spirit of the day, I'd say.

Before you write that tale off to bad, sensationalized journalism, I'll tell you that I knew at least a few people who fell on the side of seeing MLK Day as just a way to placate some politically correct minority. And they weren't afraid to vocalize that opinion. One guy I worked with referred to it with much disgust as a "total non-holiday." Don't be too surprised, this was a man who carried a hard cover copy of Rush Limbaugh's book in his briefcase. Maybe it's because I'd always had the day off from school and never thought to question its validity as a holiday, but for the life of me, I couldn't fathom what was wrong with honoring a man who fought peacefully for equal rights and love among people. Especially if you got a day off from work or school to do so.

In all fairness, this all happened more than a decade ago, so maybe things have changed in Rhode Island since then. But we're talking 1994, not 1954, for crying out loud. While we certainly have more than our fair share of bigots and morons in the Golden State, is it any wonder I fled back to California ten years ago?

I'm also reminded today that I had the opportunity to visit the Martin Luther King Birth House and Museum when I went to Atlanta with Tom and Chris during our trip to the American South a few years ago. And I'd say I left that museum a slightly changed woman. Seriously. Being an intelligent, thinking person, I absolutely hate that we humans so narrowly define each other, especially when it comes to ethnic minorities. People of color aren't really allowed much individuality, so I have spent most of my life on my individuality soap box. No, I don't like rap music; I watched Friends religiously and viewed not one episode of Moesha; and I will defiantly call myself biracial or even mulatto instead of black not only because that's what I am, but because it is, in my opinion, a significantly different experience than being just one race. Any one race.

Anyway, as I was surrounded on that September, 2003, afternoon by the multi-media exhibit which took the civil rights movement off the pages of history books and brought it to life, I was awed. This wasn't just about Martin Luther King; it was about men, women and, most impressively, children who put their comfort and safety on the line to affect change. And for the first time in my life, at age 33, I felt not like an individual, but like a part of something bigger. And, half-white or not, I felt so proudly connected by ethnicity to all those who went through what they went through so that we who followed could have more opportunity and equality. The world is a better place when we relate, as opposed to separate, so if you ask me, we all owe these people a debt of gratitude.

Then I took a look at the museum guest book where visitors, mostly school kids, sign and thank Dr. King for all that he did before he died. And I admit it, I cried. The museum also features images of lynchings and a small exhibit about Emmett Till. Those were both too much for me to take, and if you don't know the story of Emmett Till... well, I'm not sure I'd recommend you look it up because it is pretty horrifying. I would, however, highly recommend you pay a visit to the Martin Luther King Birth House and Museum the next time you're in Atlanta.

All that said, after work today, I indulged in my 15-year MLK Day tradition of playing U2's "Pride" on my stereo and wailing along with Bono. Before you get indignant about the fact that the members of U2 are a bunch of white guys, I'll remind you that the day is about unity. Besides, I think the Irish know a little something about oppression.

Love each other, my friends. Some people die so that we may stop and do so.

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