A noted British historian named C.V Wedgewood said:
"History is lived forward but written in retrospect. We know the end before we consider the beginning, and we can never wholly recapture what it was to know the beginning only."
I always thought that Martin Luther King's "I Have A Dream" speech was a courageous attempt at delineating what our future could be. We know how he ended, but at the beginning, man, he sure did spell it out. No matter what you think of him now, it would hard to deny that he moved us forward. I take inspiration from his words.
A few years ago, I wrote a column for The Suburban Journal. Here it is.
IT’S TIME TO CHANGE OUR HEARTS
When it comes to the matter of race, strong opinions abound. Words like racism, prejudice, and discrimination bring up the heat on one side, as much as double standards, affirmative action and quotas do on the other. It seems to be a fact of life in our society that the color of a persons skin has a great deal to do with their experiences growing up, where they live, who they hang out with, who they marry, who they support in politics.....how they live their lives in general. But why is it that ones color or the look of their eyes causes such things to be so?
Historically, non-whites have been a put-upon underclass worldwide, but more specifically in our country. This includes African-American, Hispanic, Asian and Native American. Greater access to higher education and aggressive government programs have helped change this over the past 40 years, to some degree. But this change has been slow and not without serious effort and cost. And increasingly we see this wariness and mistreatment toward many people of Middle Eastern descent.
“That’s just the way it is....some things will never change” goes the refrain of a recently popular song. But is this really the way we want our world to continue to operate?
I believe most of us are honest people, or at least try to be. So a question that might be asked now is: Who among us, of any race, can say they have not at least once used an ethnic slur, told a racial joke, or said something unkind about someone you don’t even know just because of the way they look? If you are one of these people, I applaud you. You are a far better person than I. However I would hazard a guess that there may be only a few of you out there.
So why do we act like this? In the larger world, we see Palestinians against Jews, Muslims at odds with Hindus, Sunnis versus Kurds. Some groups of students at Howard University reportedly cheered when O.J. was acquitted, some whites still feel that they are genetically superior to everyone else. At this rate, will we ever get to the point that Rev. Martin Luther King dreamed of, that the sons of slave owners and the sons of slaves would some day play together in harmony, and be judged by the content of their character rather than the color of their skin?
Well, I have to think it will. Here in North St. Louis County we have probably the greatest mix of people in the whole region. I teach school in a north county public school where kids of all races do get along, eat lunch together, and play sports together. They may not always socialize together but they seem to peacefully co-exist. Kids in my neighborhood and others I hear of get along together. It can be done. They do it every day. It may not be perfect, but they seem to be at least trying.
Mark Twain said, ”Loyalty to petrified opinion never broke a chain or freed a human soul----and never will.”
Opinions can change. Our opinion many times comes from what we have been taught, but ultimately it comes from our hearts. And human beings hearts can change. But it takes effort. If we can change our hearts and our opinions, we may be able to subsequently alter our actions. Ultimately, it will take each of us, in our own way and our own time, to change our hearts.
Back when he was in the news, Rodney King said something that was quite profound. When turmoil and rioting surrounded the acquittal of those who beat him, he issued a universal appeal.
“Can’t we all just get along?” he said.
Is it possible that it really is just that simple?
Can’t we all just get along?
Maybe it’s not too late for this generation to get it right. But the hope is that future generations will find the right answer to that question, and in answering, fulfill Rev. Kings dream.