My birthday always happens to fall on Martin Luther King Jr. weekend—the one “pro” to growing up in Indiana where any hope of an outside birthday party in January is left up to the imagination.
Selfishly, for the past 23-years, a lot of my energy has been dedicated to myself during MLK weekend, and not his mission, remembrance or how much work there is still left to do in the realm of equality and fairness.
Growing up, my mom was a stay-at-home-mother with a bachelor’s degree in childhood education. What that meant for me and my younger brothers was constant creative activities, random adventures and, my favorite, “hodge-podge” lunches served on plates with an animal’s face at the bottom.
I say this, not to brag about my cool mom, but to call attention to the way she, specifically, communicated with her kids from a very young age. The word I would use to describe my mother’s parenting style is “transparent.” And, even now that she operates her own in-home Pre-K, she has remained transparent to the young children she teaches.
I can’t remember just how old I was when Martin Luther King Jr. and his legacy became a topic of conversation, but I imagine I was pretty young. I was always curious as a kid, asking “mature” questions and being coined by my grandmother as an “old soul.”
I also can’t remember how that first conversation went with my mother, but I know one thing for certain and it is that from day one, she ingrained into my head just how ridiculous it is that someone can hate another person for the color of their skin.
(I have hyperlinked biographies to each person's name if you are interested in learning more about who they are and what they did.)
What I have realized about my perception of race as I have gotten older is that my childhood played a huge role in how I view and treat others, but continued conversations into adulthood are what have fueled me to keep learning more.
Here is what I mean:
Sure, my brothers and I were raised knowing we weren’t better than someone else just because of some white skin, but imagine if that thought was never put into a someone’s head at all?
This is not something that will happen overnight, or ever, obviously. When the world has progressed in a way that black mothers need to teach their sons what attire is appropriate for night-time walking versus day-time walking, and pregnant, black women have the highest mortality rates during live birth still. Clearly, we have a lot of work.
What I mean is, I read those books in elementary school and in innocent, young-child-fashion. I was the character I was reading about. It didn’t matter that the illustrations were shaded with a brown marker instead of a nude-colored marker, the story stayed the same.
Blackness, or any race for that matter, was accepted, normal and human in my youthful eyes. Which, in turn, leads me to my main point on how to continue learning as an adult.
Conversations about race can and, often will, be uncomfortable, especially if you are white. But that doesn’t mean you should avoid the topic as a whole. You have heard it once before and I’ll say it again, it does seem like the world has become overly sensitized, cancel culture is very real.
As I have gotten older, these conversations about race have gotten increasingly more uncomfortable, more painful, because I am ashamed of the treatment my fellow friends are still receiving. I am ashamed that we’re even still having the conversations, honestly.
I close, rather abruptly, because I do not have all the answers and if I did—well the world would look a lot different.
My closing thoughts on the matter are this: have a conversation with someone who looks differently than you, ask them if they have ever experienced unfair treatment, ask how they responded to that situation. Put yourself in their shoes, or at least try to. If you cannot, sit in silence and let their words really sink into you.
There is no shame in not being able to fully relate or understand, but there is shame in actively choosing to remain uneducated.
Martin Luther King Jr. said this,
As you reflect on how you spent your MLK-weekend, I would urge you to think about how you, me, we, can all be better moving forward. How we can curb existing racism, and continue to work toward preventing future injustice.