Monday, January 17, 2011

Martin Luther King Day Should be Celebrated Everywhere

The first interracial kiss between fictional characters on TV*
I didn't know what day today was. I'm Canadian so it's not a holiday for me. I think it should be. I don't know all that much about Martin Luther King. We don't study a lot of American politics in school up here. What I do know is that he was an intelligent man struggling for rights he should have had automatically. If the world was a fair place.

I have no idea what it's like to have dark skin. I'm "whiter than sour cream." On top of that, I grew up in the Canada's Borscht Belt. A lot of my neighbours had last names that ended with "ski" or "vich". This may come as a shock to some people but I didn't actually see a black person in real life until I was in grade 10. I had seen them in TV and movies but not "live".

Now, before you think I was raised in the 20s or something, I was in grade 10 in 1980. It's not that Canada didn't have black people. A lot of ex-slaves ended up in Atlantic Canada but very few of them moved to the prairies. I don't blame them. It's damn cold. There probably were black people in my town before 1980 but I never came face to face with them.

Not until a young boy, I'll call him Bobby, showed up at my Catholic high school. Bobby was given a locker two down from mine.  He was from Jamaica. His dad had been transfered to Canada so there he was. I really don't know how the other kids related to Bobby. By grade 10 I'd learned to shut out 99% of my fellow students. I loved Bobby's accent (I'm still a sucker for them) and I loved to hear him talk about Jamaica.

photo: Tourism Saskatchewan
I remember that I felt sorry for Bobby. The weather must have been a huge surprise. I'm talking minus 20 with a minus 30 wind chill. You get used to hearing "human skin will freeze in less than ten minutes" on the radio. Poor Bobby looked like the Michelin Tire guy. He had a big puffy coat, a scarf, a toque, two pairs of mitts, and 3 sweaters. It was exhausting just watching him get undressed. He lasted one semester. Last I heard the family had moved to Vancouver Island where it rarely ever gets below freezing.

I never thought that Bobby might have other problems besides the weather. I never cared that his skin was black just as I'd never cared that 40% of the kids in my elementary school were what we called Indian. I really didn't wonder why most of the Indian kids never made it to high school. Oh to be young and oblivious again...

I'm not sure when I first understood what racism was. I just know that I've always thought it was stupid. Many of you know that I'm a huge TrekNerd. I was two years old when Star Trek first appeared on our television. I didn't know what a big deal it was to have Lt. Uhura on the bridge of the Enterprise. I just took it for granted that there would be women in the 23rd Century so there would be women on the bridge.

In the video below, Uhura actress Nichelle Nichols talks about how MLK influenced her career:



It was important for Ms. Nichols to be the first but is also important to make sure there is never a last.We all need to remember MLK and strive to make his dream come true. It isn't just an American issue. It's a planetary issue. It's a human issue. Until everyone is valued equally the fight goes on.

Right now the focus is on LGBT teens who are being bullied into suicide. I think Dr. King would be appalled by the lost potential. I think he'd give a damn. I also think he'd be sad that we still have such a long way to go before we are all equal. We all have to keep up the fight. I think it would do this planet a world of good if we all remembered Martin Luther King and what he stood for, not just on one day a year but all year long.

Okay. I'll get down off this soapbox now.

*Screencap from the Star Trek episode "Plato's Stepchildren" is "fair use" under US copyright law.

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