Today is Martin Luther King Jr. Day. It’s not just another national holiday. It’s an opportunity to remember just how far we’ve come as a nation reconciling with its unjust past and how much further we have to go in realizing one man’s dream. Regardless of your politics or attitude, take advantage of that opportunity today. The past cannot be changed, but the future can be molded.
In that spirit, please take a moment to re-listen to Dr. King’s legendary speech, if only to keep that dream alive.
In general, I try not to wade into a hot button political topic until the rhetoric has become less heated. I think it’s rarely productive to throw your voice into the fray when everyone is still shouting their talking points at the top of their lungs. I know I’ve weighed inon political issues in the past, but I’ve tried to do so from a broader, bigger picture perspective.
Sometimes, though, it’s too hard to wait for everyone to stop shouting. In certain instances, the extent of that shouting is symptomatic of a larger mentality. It’s not just about the topic that’s relevant. It’s the general sentiment, passions, and feelings surrounding it.
Not too long ago, it was social justice and feminism.
Before that, it was same-sex marriage.
Before that, it was civil rights and sex discrimination.
Go back far enough and you’ll see similar discourse. When an issue is very relevant, it brings out both heated rhetoric and the prevailing attitudes of the time.
Today, I get the sense that Critical Race Theory has become that issue. Whenever people talk about it, their political tribalism rears its head and it’s neither subtle nor pretty. While I don’t doubt this issue will eventually pass to make way for the next one, it’s something worth touching on.
At its core, the particulars of Critical Race Theory aren’t that radical. If you look it up on Wikipedia, it doesn’t sounds wholly unreasonable. It’s simply a study to evaluate how social, culture, and legal traditions have impacted larger institutions and social systems.
As a social science, it’s hardly revolutionary. These are concepts that social scientists have been studying for decades. The main difference with Critical Race Theory is its emphasis on race, especially those pertaining to the African American community. After what happened with the murder of George Floyd in 2020, it only grew in relevance.
Now, I’ve stated before that we, as Americans, should not avoid the less flattering parts of our history. Acknowledging past mistakes doesn’t make you any less patriotic. It just offers a larger perspective towards certain American ideals.
However, that’s a point that those protesting Critical Race Theory don’t seem to harbor. Ever since the George Floyd protests erupted last year, this theory has been attacked and protested on multiple levels. In general, I try to sympathize and empathize with the passions of these people. They are my fellow Americans, after all. I believe they have a right to voice those passions.
At the same time, I cannot help but groan and cringe. I also genuinely wonder if they understand the full implication of what they’re arguing.
It’s true that Critical Race Theory has some distressing implications. Beyond acknowledging America’s racist past, it further complicates efforts to create a more just society. Addressing the transgressions of the past is not as simple as passing a few pieces of landmark legislation.
The system, as it functions now, is still very flawed. Fixing it may require greater effort, as well as a larger cost. Many people, who likely believe in themselves to not be racist, are bound to have a problem with that. They see it as an agenda, one that will label them and their children as a racist by default.
Whether or not that’s a reasonable concern is beside the point. I won’t claim to know what those protesting Critical Race Theory are truly thinking. I’m not psychic. However, in reviewing all this heated discourse, I’d like to offer a simple question to these people. It’s a sincere question and one I ask you consider seriously.
Why do you oppose teaching or discuss one particular idea over the other?
With that in mind, take a step back and look at this without Critical Race Theory being the main subject. Now, take a moment to appreciate what you’re asking of society, at large. You’re saying this idea that you think is wrong or flawed should not be discussed.
Even if you think it shouldn’t be discussed outside certain fields, you’re still making a statement. This is a dangerous idea and it shouldn’t be discussed, especially with children. Even in a country like America, which espouses the value of free speech, you’re arguing for an idea to be censored or suppressed.
Now, I don’t doubt there are some horrible ideas out there. Some are legitimate precursors to violence. That’s why organizations like the Ku Klux Klan are rightly vilified and prosecuted. Except, Critical Race Theory is nothing like that. So why, in that context, does it warrant so much outrage? Again, it’s a sincere question and I’d like to get a sincere answer. Please explain your reasoning in whatever way you see fit.
History is full of dark, distressing moments. It doesn’t matter who you are, where you live, or what your country’s history entails. Wars, famine, disease, atrocities, bigotry, and oppression are part of our collective narrative. We are flawed, imperfect beings trying to navigate an equally flawed, grossly imperfect world. It’s a challenge and, like any challenge, there are missteps and failures.
By every measure, slavery was a dark moment in that narrative. In America, it is a sad, painful stain on its history. It certainly wasn’t the first country to practice slavery, nor was it the twentieth. However, the very concept of owning another human being stands in stark contrast to the ideals of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness on which the country was founded.
It took 80 years after the American Revolution to officially end slavery, but doing so required a bloody civil war that killed over 600,000 Americans. Even after it ended, the struggle for justice didn’t stop. Conflict continued in the form of racism, segregation, and white supremacy. Parts of that conflict still continue to this day.
However, where we are now is far better than where we’ve been. No matter how many dark moments our history contains, they’re often contrasted by moments of triumph. The America of 1860 probably never thought slavery would end. The idea that we would have the level of social and legal equality we have today might have been unthinkable.
What once seemed impossible is now real. Things are far from perfect, especially with respect to race relations, but they stand in stark contrast to where we once were. As Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. once said, “We shall overcome because the arc of a moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.”
That’s the spirit I encourage everyone to embrace today. On this day, on Juneteenth, now set to become an official federal holiday in America, let’s take a moment to appreciate just how far we’ve come. At the same time, we cannot forget how much farther we have to go. Even if that arc Dr. King mentions is long, the extent to which we bend it towards justice is our choice.
To everyone out there who values peace, justice, and equality, I wish you a happy Martin Luther King Jr. Day. To some, this is just a day where kids get an extra day off school. To others, it’s a reminder of just how far we’ve come in the struggle against racism, injustice, and bigotry. Even though it seems like we’re stagnating at times, we’re still world’s better than we were in the days of Dr. King.
It’s hard to for young people today to understand just how entrenched racial attitudes were 60 years ago. For generations, inequality and bigotry wasn’t an aberration. It was the norm. Fighting that was like fighting the tides for a lot of people, but unlike the tides, hearts and minds can change.
That’s something Martin Luther King Jr. believed in. He dedicated his life to confronting hate and pursuing justice for everyone, regardless of race. His legacy lives on today for minorities of all kinds, from the LGBT community to immigrants. It may seem like an uphill battle at times and even after Dr. King’s death, there are still plenty of bigoted attitudes in the world today. Some people cling to those attitudes more than most.
However, it is possible for someone to let go of their hatred. It’s not easy, but it does happen. In the spirit of this day that I’m sure brings out a lot of conflicting passions in today’s society, I’d like to share one of my favorite Ted Talks.
This one is from Christian Picciolini, a former Neo-Nazi and white supremacist who managed to leave his hateful past behind. His story is one that’s especially relevant on a day like today because it doesn’t just reveal how people end up in hate groups. It shows just how difficult it is to get out. It can be done, though, and Mr. Picciolini’s story is one worth telling.
Whatever your politics, prejudices, and attitudes, we are all still human. We all inhabit this planet together. We all want a better future for ourselves and our loved ones. Ultimately, we can achieve much more by working together than by hating one another. That’s what Dr. King fought for and his legacy is worth celebrating, now more than ever.