Tuesday, January 15, 2008

My good friend Martin

A few years ago I started working on a play that was about a white sociologist professor and her black photographer boyfriend. In one of the scenes, the professor came home after spending all day in the office, only to learn from her boyfriend that it was Martin Luther King Jr. Day. Embarassed, she said, "Well, do you want to go out for dinner? Or--get something for the grill? Or--I don't know--what does one do on Martin Luther King Jr. Day?"

I couldn't tell if that scene was funny or not, I hoped that audiences would recognise that MLK Day is a weird holiday and laugh along gently. I only know it's MLK Day on Monday (although today is King's birfsday) because there was a sign on my bank saying it would be closed. So apparently it's a national holiday. But unlike President's Day, there are no sales, unlike Memorial Day, there are no home-repair projects and barbequeing. What does one do on MLK Day? I've never observed it, never had a special meal or done anything particularly memorable, and that's when I realised I don't really know much about MLK other than he was involved in the civil rights movement and he was shot.

So Monday, at the library, I checked out a biography of Dr. King. I was a little trepidatious, because biographies tend to be dry, but this author has completely balanced a good account of King's life with a genuine admiration for the man, sprinkled with King's speeches and horrifying accounts of living in the sixties. Ironically, I was reading it on the train, sitting next to a black man who was sprawled out next to me, invading my personal space. Instead of being annoyed, as I usually am (there would be so much more room on the L if people would just SIT WITH THEIR KNEES TOGETHER) I was marveling to myself about how if this man had invaded my personal space this badly fifty years ago he might have been thrown from the moving train. So the juxtaposition of history and now was very immediate. I don't know if I can say "oh, how attitudes have changed!" but the steps we've taken are certainly in the right direction. Institutionalised racism is now unacceptable, and it is the personal racism we have to work on, as opposed to fifty years ago, where individuals might be kind, but institutionally, racism was accepted.

Still working on it though.

As for me, after I finish this book, I think it's time to go back and read American history from the other perspective. Perspectives.


Laura said...

I was just telling someone that in the future (when I'm not in Romania) I want to make a new year's resloution that for 1 year I will only read author's of color, read magazines by writers of color - if I go see a movie, the majority of the cast should be of color - because as white people it's so easy to segregate yourself from the rest of society and forget that the rest of the country doesn't have that option. In that article "Unpacking the Invisiable Knapsack" one of the privlieges white people have is that they are free to ignore other cultures - to know about them or not - but other people don't have that privlege. Just looks what happens to Mexicans and Mexican Americans if they don't make an effort to learn english. Can you imagine if someone said What's baseball or what's football? or Who's the President? What's Christianity - what's that about?

After I told someone this resolution is part of my future 'he/she' immediately started talking really fast about why I shouldn't feel like I have to do that. I was like Don't freak out. No one said you have to do it.

Some people

Nicki said...

Actually, someone did ask me once what Christmas was all about. I said "well, it's to celebrate the birth of Jesus" and they said "who is Jesus?" I sort of stared at them for a second. It was a huge responsibility--should I tell them the story, should I proselytize? In the end, I just told them the Christmas story, along with some info about the commercialization of Christmas, since they had seen all the decorations, of course, but didn't understand the signifigance behind it. Very weird moment.

tealracing16 said...

wait, your done already? God thats fast. And you should always know it's MLK's birthday because that's my birthday. So I celebrated it with my wife at Olive Garden. It was good. Anyway I see that you are starting to see things from all perspectives. That's good to see, people will see you as a good person and not worry that you are a flaming liberal (last part was a joke, kinda). Anyway, brenda's got a meeting with the doc on Thursday and hopefully get to hear the babies heart beat. So, I'll talk to you later, call me sometime now that you have a little more free time.

I read your response to Laura and whats the deal with eggs and jesus coming out of the tomb? I don't get it but I love the friday off!