Every year on the third Monday in January, we honor Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. with a federal holiday. The day without school or work is often filled with parades in his name or philanthropic events to carry on his legacy. Many share his quotes as inspiration, post pictures of racially diverse groups, and offer anecdotes of how Dr. King has impacted our country.
Yes, I’ve shared some of his quotes that I find powerful and I’ve gone to parades, but it shouldn’t take a national holiday to remind me to be thankful for what he worked so hard for.
For starters, I’m a child of a mixed-race family: my mother is white and my father is black. Growing up, I didn’t realize that my parents were from different races. I did, however, know that we were different colors. “Daddy is brown, mommy is yellow and I’m yellow,” my mom remembers me proudly stating when naming the colors of things around me.
I never woke up one morning realizing that my family was different. My life wasn’t shattered when the concept of different races really sank in with me. Even to this day, I don’t think my family is any different than any of my friends—well, at least based on race (we certainly put the fun in dysfunctional, if you know what I mean).
This wouldn’t have been the case if I had been born in the Jim Crow south. I would have known that my family was different. Not just different, but wrong. My family would have been wrong. Thanks to Dr. King— among others— this isn’t the case.
Today we honor Dr. King by attending parades and listening to speeches about equality, but the real way to carry on the legacy he started is by how we live every single day.
We honor Dr. King by looking past the color of someone’s skin to see the substance inside of him.
We honor him removing prejudices from our minds.
We honor him by removing hate from our hearts.
That being said, I challenge myself to use race as an identifier unless necessary for the story. No longer will I say, “Today walking to class, I helped an Asian woman find Carroll Hall.” The race of the woman has no effect on my story, so I won’t include it.
I challenge myself to keep phrases like, “He’s cute for a black boy” out of my repertoire, and to encourage others to do the same, because though they may have positive intentions, the phrase sounds negative.
I agree with the 2-year-old version of myself. We’re all different colors, but beyond that, we’re the same. Let’s try to remember that between today and January 18, 2016.
I’m thankful for you, Dr. King.
“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.” – Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. on August 28, 1963 on the March on Washington.