Today is the 25th anniversary of the establishment of Martin Luther King Jr. Day as a National holiday. And every year on this holiday I think about how far we've come as a country (not to say that we don't still have far to go mind you).
What, you ask, have I experienced in my tame life to reflect back on today? Nothing. And that's the point. When I was 18 and getting ready to go away to college for the first time my grandmother and I had a conversation I'll never forget. She took me aside and in all seriousness asked me if I was worried about living in the dorms.
"I'm more worried about what my roommate is going to be like than anything else," I told her.
She nodded sagely, (ok side note, I've been waiting my whole life to use that phrase; my granny never nodded sagely in her life, she just nodded like a normal person. Cut me some creative slack), and said that's what she meant; was I worried about who I would end up with, if they would be different.
"I'm more worried that I'll be the different one," I told her. To which, she looked confused. Was the fact that I had only worn pajama pants that year and had taken to painting all over my shoes was not considered odd enough? But then she said something that had never even crossed my mind.
"No, I mean do you worry about if your roommate will be black?"
I think I must have just stared back at her. Probably blankly.
Now, mind you, my grandma wasn't a racist in the typical Ohio sense of the word. She never said anything offense, treated everyone with equal respect, everything you would expect of a nice catholic lady. But she was raised in a different time and acting with respect and politeness is not the same thing as being comfortable with someone who is different than you.
And that's how I know that we've made strides. Because I live in a time when it would never cross my mind that living with someone who didn't look like me was something I should worry about. My grandma was just trying to help, to reassure me that my nervousness about going away to school was natural, and she had no idea that I would never think that way, that I'm fairly certain I can't think that way. I know this story doesn't seem like a positive one to tell on MLKjDay, but I think it just goes to show what a child can grow up to be and think if they aren't surrounded with negative ideas. I never ever knew she felt that way, and because of that, I grew up with a clear mind.
An idea that isn't expressed quickly disappears. That's a theory that goes both ways. If inequality and hatred aren't expressed, passed from one generation to another, they will disappear. But if love and hope aren't expressed they'll disappear too. Hopefully as time goes on things in the world will work the way they did in my family, with each generation taking another small step past tolerance and into a acceptance.
P.S. My grandma lived to see me travel the world with the hopes of spreading ideas of equality, love and peace, but unfortunately not long enough to see not one but two of her granddaughters going to Africa with the PeaceCorp this year.