By Ken Hamilton
Niagara Gazette — I suppose that it is only fitting that Barack Obama’s second term Inauguration Day shares the national holiday of Martin Luther King’s birthday. To many, the Obama inauguration is the culmination, at least in part, of King’s dream.
But, it is only a part of it.
King’s Dream was not simply about America having a black president. In fact, black Americans have made more civil rights gains under white presidents than we have under Obama, and Obama swearing his Presidential Oath with both King’s and Abraham Lincoln’s bibles is a testament, of sorts, to that.
King’s dream was more about a “post-racial America” — a once, often repeated phrase of Obama’s — than it was about a single person standing as a dubious icon of such. For you see, it took a lot of ‘previously-post-racial encounters,’ by millions and millions of Americans, in order for Obama to have been elected in the first place. And if we are going to continue to change this nation into more of King’s Dream, then it will take millions and millions more such one-on-one encounters for that to happen.
Additionally, both blacks and whites will have to be open and honest about how they feel really about race.
You can say what you will about Dixie-Americans, both blacks and whites; but they have long understood how each other felt about race. The stars and bars still fly both atop of the statehouse of Mississippi and from hundreds of thousands of trailers and pickup trucks throughout the south. Yet, educated southern blacks are able to progress seemingly faster and higher than the northern blacks of Yankee-America; and northern cities like Detroit, Buffalo and Niagara Falls are losing its brightest black minds to places like Houston, Atlanta and Charlotte.
More so than any holiday, or any piece of legislation, America will have to do as King once hoped it would, “… rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: 'We hold these truths to be self-evident that all men are created equal.”
But the fertile farmlands, majestic mountains, broad rivers and sweeping plains cannot manifest that dream; because, while all of those things are ‘in’ America, they are ‘not’ America. You and I are that “America” that was built on that too often abrogated natural law of honesty – the very foundations of our great American Constitution. That’s why they call us Americans.
Comedian Chris Rock’s says in his standup routine, “All my black friends have lots of white friends; but all of my white friends only have one black friend.”
Most Americans are going to have to ask themselves why Chris Rock’s statement is still more the rule than the exception. Many of us blacks are going to have to ask ourselves if there is more that we can do. Are whites shunning having more black friends, or are we blacks hogging the white friends that we have; or both?
I don’t know.
The Bible says that a child shall lead us. But by putting our children on a yellow bus and sending them away from their own neighborhoods to integrated schools, to where you cannot fully participate in their education, isn’t really the answer, either. That puts off that post-racial America for more generations than we adults will likely see.
But we can peep into that post-racial America, each time that we adults, of any race, encounter a child of another race who looks up into our eyes in obvious wonderment.
For example, I was the first black person that five-year old Dane Kilmer had ever closely encountered. As I sat poolside with his parents, the toe-headed, blue-eyed lad edged closer to me, as his parents slowed their conversation and carefully watched. Dane began to look up at my afro hair and, overcome with curiosity, reached and began to feel it. His parents were mortified; but I saw it as a learning opportunity for the lad. “Your hair feels funny,” he said.
Letting Dane get the full experience of, as King would likely have put it, our different-but-equal qualities, I asked him about my skin. He looked at my arm, felt it and proclaimed that it felt funny, too. When I asked him to close his eyes and then feel it, for him, it then took on the same qualities of his mother’s skin.
Dane had overcome his curiosities, and any budding problems that he might have had with black people; simply because he was able unabashedly to explore those differences at a young age.
You can read the entire story of Dane by searching "Dane Kilmer" on the Gazette website ( www.niagara-gazette.com)
But more important than just reading it, how about you to creating your own experiences of being a part of change in America, instead of just a grumbling observer.
As Rush Limbaugh would say, “Words have meanings.” Inauguration addresses are composed of words, and President John F. Kennedy’s inaugural words still ring true. “… ask what you can do for your country,” should still echo from the purple, majestic mountains of every American’s soul, because, thus is what every American can do for our country, and what Obama can’t do for every American child.Contact Ken Hamilton at firstname.lastname@example.org.