Reflecting on Martin Luther King, Jr. Day

 

Written by: JJ Liniger

Edited by: Quinn Cameron

 

Until about a year ago, I thought racism was something of America’s past and had no real relevance today. Though it isn’t true, I’d like to thank my parents for that perception of reality, because they could have taught me something very different. Growing up in west Texas, my parents viewed racism as the norm. Segregation was simply all the life they knew. From her childhood, my mother has very few memories of black people and for my father it is mostly the same.

I remember stories of my brother having a slingshot and someone calling it a “nigger shooter.” In response, my brother assumed  the N-word must be some kind of bird. He had never heard the word before and I don’t remember hearing it again (outside of the retelling of this story). When playing with my cousins, we had the Kool Kids Klub. I don’t remember whose idea it was to have our club spell out KKK but, looking back on it as an adult, I can see racism was once quite prevalent throughout my family.

My parents could have easily perpetuated the belief whites are superior to non-whites. One of the reasons that I believe racism is still a problem today is because parents have taught their children to hate. Other parents have been less obvious about their intentions, but still characterize people of color as lazy, criminals, and worse. When parents have only negative things to say about a particular group of people, children will most likely take on those opinions as their own.

Two years ago, my daughter had a sweet black friend with braids and clips in her hair. My daughter wanted the same. I wasn’t sure if it would be appropriate, so I posted the question on Facebook. Most of my friends and family were supportive of my daughter rocking the ‘do. (I was lazy and never did the braids, but I would have if my daughter really wanted it)

With the changing of time, I am pleased to say my family has progressed. I was taught that God gave black people different coloring of skin, but we were all equal. Which is great and certainly a step in the right direction.

However, thinking we are all equal is not true. When surrounded by poverty and poor education, it makes it difficult to be successful. When people of color are arrested for crimes far more than whites, even when they statistically commit the same number of that crime (example: drug-related crimes), it becomes more difficult to be successful. Having a family that sees college as a waste of time or something they can’t afford, makes it more difficult to be successful.

But, it is possible, and the standards set by parents are the number one way to succeed. I started saving for college when I was eight years old. There was never any doubt I would go. However, I attended very low quality schools. The school I graduated from knew these kids needed to graduate high school because, for most of them, that was all the education they would receive. So, it didn’t matter what they learned as long as they had a diploma in their hand.

It was common knowledge that the math teacher COULD NOT flunk a student because the school board said her standards for teaching were too high. I know some students who never did any homework, yet passed because the teacher could do nothing. When it was time to apply for college scholarships I remember wishing I were a minority because then there would be more options (actually, I was a minority since most of the students were Native American and I wasn’t).

I graduated almost seventeen years ago, but not much has changed. Within the last year, an adult volunteer was working with students in the same area. He made arrangements for them to help at a function. About six or eight students were scheduled to attend and that morning no one showed up. The adult was angry, and when the students gathered again he expressed his disappointment and how when,

“you say you’ll do something, you do it. When you have a job, you don’t just decide that morning to not show up.”

This dedication and work ethic was brand new to these students. Not one of them had a role model who, if they didn’t want to go to work, went anyway. They didn’t have school administration who required they attend. I don’t know the race of these students, and it doesn’t really matter. While race can present a person with certain challenges, it shouldn’t define them. The character of the individual is most important and those values start within the home.

Looking at my family, I easily could have a very different mindset. I am thankful for the positive example my parents demonstrate to me for all people. We have come far and I want to carry on the legacy to my children. I know some people have issues with the term being “color blind” because it doesn’t address the problem people of color face. Regardless, I hope one day we will be a nation that truly IS color blind and, like Martin Luther King said, I also,

“look to a day when people will not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character.”

 

As always, with love,

JJ Liniger

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