55 years ago today, August 28, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. gave his most famous speech. In this speech, he railed against the racial injustice that still pervaded America; an injustice that still persists to this day. He railed against the denial of full rights to the black community by vicious bigots intent on keeping Those People in their place. He condemned police brutality, economic inequality, and widespread disenfranchisement.
But he also spoke of his dream:
I have a dream that my four little children will 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. I have
a dream ... I have a dream that one day in Alabama,
with its vicious racists, with its governor having his lips
dripping with the words of interposition and nullification,
one day right there in Alabama little black boys and black
girls will he able to join hands with little white boys and
white girls as sisters and brothers.
I was not one of those little white boys. I grew up around too much casual and cultural racism to be untainted by it. I'm fortunate enough to be aware of it even when I'm unable to suppress it but that's a cold comfort. The first step really is admitting you have a problem.
But even though my childhood was infected with racism, my daughter Anastasia's has not. She is one of the little white girls of MLK's dream. She's not "colorblind" because that's a stupid message to teach to white children. This is America. Race matters even if it shouldn't. Anastasia understands that black children are treated differently than white children and Latino children have different issues to deal with in a country that despises them as "invaders."
So, she's not "colorblind." Rather, she's "color indifferent." Black kids, white kids, Latino, Asian, Arabic, none of that is relevant as long as she can play with them. That's all she ever cared about when she was younger and Deb and I took steps to keep it that way.
When she was old enough to understand racism and bigotry, I started to explain it to her, getting more detailed and nuanced as time goes on (it's an ongoing process). It's not exactly a hard lesson to teach. The default for children is "not racist" because bigotry is learned. Still, it's something that has to be taught because the messaging from society, both subtle and gross, says otherwise. It's not nearly as bad as when I was a kid but it's always there.
Now, at 8 years of age, well past the time when racism has taken a firm hold of most children of bigoted parents, Anastasia's friends are mostly black, Latino, and a handful of Arabic kids. She thinks nothing of spending the day in the homes of families from the Middle East, West Africa, or Central America which is where a great deal of our community hails from. We've expanded our family to include our next door neighbor and her daughter who Anastasia argues and fights with like a sister on a regular basis. They love each other like annoying siblings, something Lila has never had and something Anastasia has been deprived of because of her brother Jordan's autism. Lila looks a lot like her Italian mother but is unmistakably colored like her Egyptian father. Anastasia couldn't possibly care less.
This is not meant to be a self-congratulatory article about how awesome I am as a parent. I let Anastasia spend too much time on her tablet and she eats far too much McDonald's. I am no super parent. But I thought it would be nice, in the middle of the constant deluge of hate and rage from the white nationalist right, to read about how at least some of us are working to make MLK's dream come true.
I'd like to think MLK would watch Anastasia play with his kids without hesitation or the slightest shred of self consciousness about what other people might think with a big goofy smile on his face. It's not Alabama but Virginia was a part of the Confederacy and the racism still runs deep in our state. Progress can come in the smallest of packages and along with millions of others just like her, my little girl with dirty blonde hair, blue eyes, and an infectious smile that doesn't give a damn about your racial hangups is the future King was dreaming of all those years ago.