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.