Living overseas on a military base from ages 8-13, I had a different view on race/ethnicity than those held by many people who have lived in the US their whole lives. In the Philippine Islands, my four best friends were James (Caucasian-American), Ronnie (Filipino-American), Martin (Japanese-American) and Kevin (African-American). It may sound protected or naive, but it just never occurred to me to think about race as a basis for bigotry or racism. My parents had many friends across racial/ethnic lines, and to me, that was just “normal”. It was quite a shock when we moved to Virginia in 1974, and I encountered blacks and whites using racial slurs from time to time, as a common part of their speech. This was a time that was well captured in the movie “Remember the Titans”.
I still remember my mom’s attitude on race. When we were still living on Clark Air Force Base, she was taking my friend, Kevin (African-American) and me to baseball practice. I got a haircut along the way, and on the way out of the barber shop, the Filipino Barber (with nothing but good intentions) nodded at Kevin and me, and said to my mom “adopted?”, assuming that we were brothers. Without skipping a beat, my mom replied “no, natural child birth” as we breezed out the door, leaving a puzzled barber in our wake. I didn’t give it a thought at the time, but years later I began to understand her attitude. She really believed in being friends with everyone who crossed her path, and the thought of discrimination or racism was anathema to her.
My favorite quote from the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. remains “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 am not naive enough to believe that we can just wish away racism. I know that much work remains to level all “playing fields”, whether in schools, workplaces, churches or just daily interaction.However, I am just hopeful enough to trust that in my lifetime, discussions about race/ethnicity will be mere conversations items, without judgement, rancor or evil purpose. As we celebrate Dr. King’s legacy, let us give thanks for one of the most talented orators to walk the earth, who always looked to initiate change through peaceful actions with the moral high ground.