Mark your calendar for Aug. 28, the 50th anniversary of Martin Luther King’s iconic “I Have a Dream” speech, which was delivered to more than 250,000 civil rights supporters from the steps of the Lincoln Memorial.
I’ll be thinking of Dr. King on that anniversary of the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom — and I’ll be thinking about my late father, Lewis Tyree.
Dad once told of a conversation (circa 1970s) with a man from our hometown. The fellow was trying to organize a neighborhood movement to keep any (“N-word”) families from moving onto his street.
Puzzled, my father named a particular African-American who had been an honored guest in the man’s home on many occasions.
“Oh, replied the man, “he ain’t a (‘N-word’). He’s my buddy. I KNOW him!”
So, although much progress has been made toward a color-blind society in the past five decades, we still need a lot of “buddies” to continue the advances.
Ask yourself, “Am I truly the sort of person a member of a different race would consider for a friend — or could even tolerate for two minutes on the elevator?”
Stray from your comfort zone and give an open-minded reading to some opinions outside your insulated world. Whites, stop patting yourself on the back for watching “Roots” when Jimmy Carter was president and read about contemporary cases of job discrimination, voter barriers and police harassment. Blacks, read an economist’s report on the negative impact of the War On Poverty or affirmative action.
Whites, count to 10 before saying “That was a long time ago” or before taking your advantages for granted. Blacks, count to 10 and give someone the benefit of the doubt before musing, “I wonder what kind of veiled racial slur THAT was?” In other words, we all need to steer away from both cluelessness and hypersensitivity.
Whites, do you ever speak glowingly of black scientists, educators and businessmen — or is it just athletes and movie stars? Blacks, are there any Caucasians you admire besides politicians who pander for your vote?
It may seem silly, but try honing your descriptive skills. Adopt a habit of identifying a person in a group using characteristics other than race. “The white dude” or “the black woman” does not have to be your first impulse.
Can the races learn to appreciate one another’s cuisine, fashion, slang, media, hobbies, values and companionship without fear of ostracism? Can we condemn pejoratives such as “(N-word) lover” and “Uncle Tom” to the dust heap of history?
If a few more of us could rise to the occasion of being potential “buddies,” Dr. King’s dream of harmony and equality could come even closer to fruition.
But it will require the courage to disavow the worst elements of your own race, whether it be the redneck who jokes about lynchings or the African-American who gloats over the stores he’s going to loot if the verdict in a racially charged case doesn’t go his way.
If we feel obligated and duty-bound to cheer on (or at least tolerate) the walking, talking stereotypes among us, such as the “blacks can apply, but…” Human Resources director or the swaggering, Ebonics-spewing, welfare-cheating gang leader wannabe, we’re all still in a form of slavery.
Danny Tyree welcomes e-mail at email@example.com