The three-day weekend.Sitting comfortably at the corner of gift and blessing, three-day weekends may be what keep college students (and their professors) from completely losing their minds. It also may have something to do with beer.
When it comes to three-day weekends, “why” is generally the least important question word involved. Instead, we wonder what we’re going to do, where we’re going to go and how much of that time we can spend getting stupid-drunk.
It’s as if we fear asking why might somehow make us seem ungrateful: like we’re questioning whether or not we deserve it.
In essence, we could be biting the hand that feeds us.
“If you have to ask ‘why’ then maybe you don’t deserve a three-day weekend.”
But now that the weekend’s over, we have nothing to fear.
It’s no mystery that Monday was Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, a federal holiday celebrated on the third Monday of every January, near King’s birthday.
That’s the “who,” the “what,” the “where” and the “when.” “How” we know this is generally thanks to the colored or shaded square on our 2010 calendars and the italicized text below.
The “why,” in this case, is a little more complex.
Sure, everybody knows what Martin Luther King, Jr. did for Civil Rights and for the advancement of black people in America. We all learned about the Civil Rights Movement around 7th grade or so. For many of us, that education included a showing of that Whoopi Goldberg movie about the Montgomery bus boycott (The Long Walk Home, thank you Google), famously led by Dr. King.
We know him as a spiritual figure, a historic political leader and a champion of nonviolence.
Beyond that, we should know him as one of the most influential human beings who has ever lived.
King is more than simply the sum of these parts. He is more than a list of well-documented accomplishments and tangible accolades. King was (and is) an idea.
If you’ve never read or heard King’s “I Have a Dream” speech, what are you doing reading this?
Go read that.
Seriously. Here’s a Web site: http://www.americanrhetoric.com/speeches/mlkihaveadream.htm that contains a video excerpt, full audio and a written transcript. Follow along like you did when you had books on cassette as a child (minus the “turn the page when you hear this sound” chimes).
Context is important, but context isn’t everything. Much of what King says regarding legal discrimination and oppression is thankfully behind us. In the 45 years since King’s speech, the cultural zeitgeist in America has shifted toward tolerance and acceptance. From both a legal and social perspective, America has come a long, long way.
That does not mean there is nothing left to learn.
Legal equality means that perhaps government has done all it can.
Anything beyond legal equality means government is doing too much.
King had a dream that his children would “one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.”
This is not something we can legislate.
Fortunately, it is something we can control.
In order to do that, we must recognize that skin color is something we cannot.
Skin color is a circumstance of birth, and as such, should neither be a source of pride or shame. Being proud of being white or black is the equivalent of being proud of being tall or having blue eyes. Having a particular level of melanin is not something you chose and not something anyone has accomplished. It is merely something we each happen to be born with.
To realize King’s dream, we must move past any notions of entitlement or “power” attributed to any particular circumstance of birth. That includes skin color.
What’s more, we must be wary of political correctness and censorship. Words are “bad” because we identify them as such – take away the supposed meaning and you rob the word of its power. Language is organic, and we can change it.
Ultimately, it’s the intolerant idea we must stop, not the language that happens to imply it.
Note that a truly tolerant society is one where anyone can make jokes about anyone else and everyone laughs. Creating social boundaries about who can say what and what it must mean only works to further resentment and distance between social groups.
King dedicated his life to legal equality and egalitarianism, but only because we must crawl before we can walk.
In America, we’re crawling, but remembering King’s dream is a necessary step in our quest to walk.
And that, friends, is the “why.