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Martin Luther King Day 2010

Two personal experiences shape my thoughts each day on Martin Luther King day. The first was the memory of those in our small north Georgia community who were gratified that he had died. Few of the young folk had any idea why they should think that way, though we had regularly had “scares” that there would be riots in nearby Chattanooga, Tennessee, not that it was likely such things would touch our heavily segregated community.

For my parents and our family, the experience was a little bit outside of our experience. We were Canadians transplanted into the American south and so attitudes took turns that we did not expect. My parents were very clear that we were not to make racist remarks, and they challenged racist attitudes on an individual level. I don’t think they really comprehended the extent of institutional racism at the time, as we didn’t discuss the politics in any detail.

The second experience that shaped my understanding was living in Georgetown, Guyana when I was in my teens. There I learned what it meant to be a minority, when I was the sole white member of my youth group. Now let me be clear that I was treated well by all concerned. I did not experience prejudice in that circumstance, but even without prejudice there is a certain feeling of isolation that goes with being the only person of an identifiable type.

I was listening today to a commenter on one of the TV programs–I don’t recall which–who said that the laws had changed, but people’s hearts and minds still had a long way to go.

I think that caller was right, but I should note also that laws may help change hearts and minds, but they are not fully efficient at the task. For example, desegregating education has given many young people experience of other races, which is helpful in changing their future attitudes. But the attitudes still exist.

During the last election I was getting my hair cut at a local barber shop while early voting was open. The general consensus was that “those people” were busy stealing the election through early voting. It didn’t take long to realize that “those people” were African Americans, not Democrats or Republicans.

I hope that we will all become much better at seeing ourselves in other people’s circumstances. As Christians, we need to understand how religious minorities feel here in our communities. That might help us become even more sympathetic for Christian minorities overseas. Understanding what it means to be in the minority would, I think, make us better people.

For me it took a very long time to put it all together, and I can’t guarantee I’ve understood it all even now. But by the grace of God I’ll continue to progress in understanding others not by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character (slightly paraphrased from the I Have a Dream speech.)

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