Beinstein column: True integration doesn’t follow geopolitical lines
Of everything I’ve ever read about him, I found this story to be the most beautiful anecdote about Martin Luther King Jr. and his family.
As a very young boy, he and this other young white boy loved playing with each other. And, yet, when it came time to choose a school, the white playmate attended a whites-only segregated school and his parents prohibited him from playing with MLK Jr. or any other black child ever again.
MLK Jr.’s parents taught him that, as Christians, they still must love that white kid and the white kid’s parents.
We’re all indebted to the work Martin Luther King did in the 1950s and 60s. Separate water fountains, schools, bathrooms and all the rest — how cruel that was to blacks, making them feel second class.
But for all the legislation MLK Jr. inspired, it still can’t change our hearts. Blacks can now get on the same Greyhound bus as whites, but are whites willing to sit next to them? The same goes for our libraries and schools and hospitals. Ultimately, government cannot change our hearts, only we can, with the inspiration of heroic leaders like Martin Luther King Jr.
Taking the short view on this is bound to cause despair and depression. So much of society still only imagines blacks in subservient roles. And it gets even worse than that. Some are even nostalgic for the Confederacy and the institution of slavery.
Yet, as MLK Jr. taught us, we must not judge, for none of us have perfect hearts. MLK Jr. claimed Chicago was one of the most segregated cities he had ever visited. Many athletes say the most racist city to play in is Boston. And many wealthy New Yorkers won’t hire a black real estate agent to sell their expensive apartments.
The notion that northerners, or liberal Democrats, or Californians somehow imagine themselves as so morally superior to southerners or rural people is not only wrong, but also deeply hypocritical. No area in America is free from racial bias.
In his famous “I Have a Dream” speech, MLK Jr. paraphrased this line from Scripture, “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free: for ye are all one in Christ Jesus. And if ye be Christ’s, then are ye Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise.”
The most important line in our Declaration of Independence, the underlying motive for our nation, is that all men are created equal. Racial equality goes to the heart of what it means to be an American. No to eugenics, which implies some races are superior to others. No to immigration laws, which favor some races to others. No to foreign policies, which imply some countries are incapable of developing their own resources or investing in their own people.
We are indeed all created equal. But coupled with that message is the need to realize within ourselves how deeply flawed we all are. And, as much as some whites hate blacks, so it is true that some blacks hate whites that much, as well.
Ultimately, it will never be hate or arrogance or finger-pointing that will prevail, but only love. As Abraham Lincoln once wrote, “I have no prejudice against the Southern people. They are just what we would be in their situation. If slavery did not now exist amongst them, they would not introduce it. If it did now exist amongst us, we should not instantly give it up.”
Many people in America can trace their family heritage to ones that profited off slavery, or Jim Crow laws, or quasi-colonial policies by the American government. As Lincoln said, none of us should judge, for most of us are trapped by our own self-interest.
And, yet, a renewal of love and brotherhood and compassion is desperately called for in our own times. As that beautiful preacher from Atlanta said not too long ago, “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.”
Alex Beinstein is a millennial who grew up in Aspen, lived in Carbondale for a while and now writes from Washington, D.C. His column appears monthly in the Post Independent.
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