Aug. 9, 2008, was the happiest day of my life. I was about to marry the man of my dreams.
As I sat in the Town Car, awaiting my cue to enter the chapel, I had a revealing conversation with my limo driver. He was a pleasant black man in his early 60s. As we chatted, he spun our conversation to race.
“Integration was the worst thing that ever happened in America,” he proclaimed. His rationale was the typical “us vs. them” mantra that has become too common in our society. He explained that blacks were better off with “our own” and that most whites don’t care about us. I attempted to rebut his theory but didn’t get too far before my brother tapped on the window, ready to escort me down the aisle.
As we celebrate the legacy of Martin Luther King Jr., we cannot do so without discussing what freedom means. Some would limit Dr. King’s inheritance to black Americans. Those who do, sadly, miss the point.
Dr. King understood that none of us are truly free unless all of us are free. Society suffers and America is robbed of her full potential when we are divided. Division creates fear and distrust. When that happens, we risk losing the next great scientist, author or humanitarian. We miss the chance to enrich our lives with others, even those who do not look like us.
Dr. King believed that it was time for all of us to silence the voices of dissent within ourselves and see our neighbors’ hearts rather than their skin. He spoke not just of freedom, but of unity, knowing that these concepts are not distinct. They are joined as tightly as life is to breath. When one fails, so does its companion. He sacrificed so that someday every American would understand that we are not distinct groups to be pitted against each other. We are a “beautiful symphony of brotherhood,” knitted together as part of God’s grand design.
Let us remember that Dr. King’s dream was for each of us to be judged solely by the content of our character. And that is where, as a nation, we have fallen short. We have become a nation of disparate groups, and we are still fixated on race.
This destructive mentality permeates law, politics, sports, entertainment, media and all facets of life. Rather than race being in the background, it is squarely in the foreground. We are told by the media and academics how we should think, feel, vote and even marry, all based on our race. When we do not conform to these predetermined proscriptions, we are excoriated, ridiculed or ignored. But that is not freedom. Freedom is the ability to be and think for oneself.
That is Dr. King’s legacy.
My limo driver and I never finished our conversation. But I’m certain he noted my disagreement when I emerged from the chapel, arm in arm with my new husband, who happened to be white.