Monday, January 19, 2009

"It's Not About Race."

TheWife and I were in Baltimore Saturday to see the President Elect speak as a part of his whistle-stop tour. It was crowded. I saw Americans of many, many backgrounds: Middle-Eastern, East Asian, Latino, South Asian, African-American, European-American, Jewish. Everyone smiling.

On the way out an African-American woman behind me said, "This is so wonderful. This is not about race. This is about being an American." I turned around and looked at her, saying nothing, but the fact that she said that meant a lot.

"It is not about race. It's about being an American." This was the feeling of someone whose family for half of this nation's history were not free, were considered three fifths of a human being, don't even begin to consider citizens. They were not considered Americans.

These are people against whom laws were passed to make sure they were denied opportunity, convenience, and most of all dignity. Their second-class status was made a part of the structure of our legal system. Bigotry was the law of the land.

Even when it was determined that such obvious discrimination was contrary to the founding notion that all men are created equal, the segregation was a sham equality. Soldiers came home from the World Wars, where they fought and bled for our nation, only to be treated like less than a full citizen.

Even after the courts demanded integration, the bias became social instead of legal. The hurdles placed in front of African-Americans became structural, ingrained in our society in terms of school funding, health care, hiring, and a thousand unspoken gestures.

Yet, coming from that legacy, this woman at that moment felt simply an American. She looked at the people around her, the spectrum that we were, and saw us as her fellow citizens. If it wasn't about race, it was all about race. Someone who has had every reason to not feel a complete citizen of this nation, now does.

This does not mean that there is no such thing as racism. This does not mean that we are judged on the content of our character alone. this does not mean that the moral arc of the universe has completed its bend towards justice. But on this day, when we honor Dr. King's memory and take time to think about how we treat our fellow citizens, there is something to be happy about.