Welcome To The Fold

My father didn’t like the way blacks were treated in the military during World War II. When I asked him why he decided to raise his family in a black neighbourhood in the mid-60s, he attributed it, in part, to the ideals of Martin Luther King, Jr.: that we were all equals now. (The economics of raising a large family and housing prices probably played a part, too. My father is a frugal man). When asked about the circumstances of moving to the suburbs in the early 70s, he said it was because it wasn’t fair to the kids, being beat up for being white. He attributed the animosity towards whites to the kids, not the adults. For a long time, I always wondered why the issues of race continued to be hashed over, when I had been raised to think that with the civil rights progress of the 60s, we, as a society were past this. It dawned on me, that this was an ideal that needs to be passed on with every generation. This isn’t something that one generation can say: okay, we did it, let’s forget about it, and move on. No, human nature, treating others as outsiders for whatever reason, is something adults must warn their children against, for this and every successive generation to come.

I think back on the situation that led to our being exiled from the city, often. I sometimes feel that we were part of a failed social experiment, that we as whites would be welcomed as equals among our black neighbours. It’s a cynical view. I don’t think it was a total failure, but there’s an element of reality to it. I don’t really hold animosity towards anyone for the resulting re-segregation, although it makes me sad to see how it sometimes plays out in our collective value system; you don’t have street cred if you don’t live in a violent neighbourhood, self perpetuates into more people living a lifestyle that continues to do more harm to society, rather than contributing lasting value. Sure, maybe you’ll be the one in a million that gets rich as a rap star spewing urban angst, but how does that improve things for the other 999,999 people who follow that model into a destitution of the soul that celebrates the wrong in the world, without promoting anything good?

I don’t doubt the advances made through the work of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., but I didn’t get from his overall message that being black was a special status symbol, that being black somehow gave license to act less civil. What I got from his message, is that no matter what colour your skin is, you should welcome others into the fold.


One comment on “Welcome To The Fold

  1. Brenda says:

    Growing up in a small town with an Air Force base was equally baffling. There was one high school, so segregation was a totally foreign concept to us. We all went to school together, so the athletic teams were mixed, as were the choir groups, student councils and cheerleading teams I participated in. Everyone in the world outside our community harping incessantly about “equal opportunity” just made us scratch our heads.

    But, at the same time, even though I had friends with different ethnic backgrounds and skin colors, I knew my father would not welcome them in our home. I didn’t think that was right, but it was his house, and he was not someone to be sassed or questioned. I didn’t understand why he held the beliefs he did, but I did vow not to follow in his footsteps and to raise my children differently. And I did.

    The only time our skin color was an issue for us kids was on Martin Luther King’s birthday. For reasons which I still don’t fully understand, that one day white students became the target of verbal and physical attacks. In 1973, one of my white friends was attacked in the high school parking lot by a black student and hit over the head with a pipe. Thankfully, he survived, but we were all shaken and confused. We didn’t understand why we, the white students, were suddenly seen as the enemy.

    From that point on, white students stayed home on Martin Luther King’s birthday, often at our parents’ insistence because they feared for our safety. It became a day of hate and violence, just the opposite of Dr. King’s dream.

    So, yes, it appears that, somewhere along the line, Dr. King’s message was hijacked and, to this day, continues to be turned and twisted into something he wouldn’t even recognize.

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