Tuesday, January 17, 2012 at 12:28AM
I woke with the intention of making today meaningful.
When we first decided to move to Memphis, the first thought that came to me was "That's where they shot Dr. King." Yes, I called him Dr. King because in my family, you always put Dr. in front of someone's name if they're a doctor. And, yes, I thought the words exactly like that ... "they shot him." Like an army of people fired shots at the Lorraine. Aside from proving that I'm careless when I'm thinking to myself, this is illustrative of how many view race, if not life itself.
The National Civil Rights Museum rests quietly beneath a vintage green sign with red letters proclaiming the words "Lorraine Motel" on it. It happens to be two trolley stops away from our apartment. To give you an idea of how much I wanted today to mean something, Tariq commuted 45 minutes to join us for our very own Family Civil Rights Remembrance Lunch today.
Because this is Memphis.
This is where Dr. King died, you know.
In the morning, I explained slavery to my daughter.
She was horrified, as she should be.
Then I explained segregation.
That seemed to confuse her, as it should.
I repeated the "content of his character" line like you do when you're trying to be inspirational about race. I explained non-violent resistance. I'm not sure what stuck, but it felt significant at the time.
We stepped off the trolley towards the museum, and there were so many people. I realized going into the actual museum was a bust. I've been there once already, so that wasn't too big of a deal. There was music playing, food cooking, laughter... people, there were funnel cakes!
At the place where "they" shot Dr. King!
This was not a place for martyrs.
This was a party. The smell of funnel cakes summarily decimated my romantic notions surrounding today and drove home an obvious reality.
Today is the birthday celebration of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
Of course, there are funnel cakes.
I know the readership of this blog enough to know that most of the people reading right now are not exactly like me. I write for people who want to learn about difference or diversity, so it follows that most people reading here are not "like me". The funny thing about being "brown like me" is that you're not "black" or "white".
Bask in the brilliance of that little gem.
When you're "brown" (I'm totally doing air quotes), you don't carry a lot of American baggage. Hold your envy, my friends, I have baggage of a different type. Slavery, separate water fountains, back of the bus and such, though? Not so much. I own this history, but I do not live it the way someone who is "black" or "white" would. (Again, with the air quotes).
From my position, I see shame, guilt, anger, finger pointing and even justification when it comes to these topics. Some decry this nation's racial past as shameful , others justify it as natural, many are somewhere in between. Some rant about how nothing has changed and others talk of how there's nothing left to do. Some people get angry if race is brought up at all while still others seem to make everything about race.
What I seldom see is what I saw today: celebrating.
I was not here when you were here, but I know we have come a long way. Today, my brown kid sat in a sub shop just around the corner from the Lorraine with black kids and white kids and all the kids ate the same food and nobody told them they couldn't sit wherever they wanted, and God love 'em every one, they all drank from the same soda fountain. As we walked home, we passed the site of the first schoolhouse for "colored" children and I had no idea how to even begin defining "colored" to my daughter.
That is something.
We can remember and we can be vigilant and we can be happy. These things aren't mutually exclusive.
I woke with the intent to make today mean something by going to the place where Dr. King died. I intended to honor his memory and legacy. I realize now that it's not how or why he died that should be the focus, but what he did while he was alive that is most significant.
We live his dream.
Today, I woke with the intent of making this day meaningful.
So, it was.