I was sitting in the Cleveland Airport this past Sunday morning, grabbing a meal (it was lunch, but felt like breakfast. Alas for the confusing effects of Daylight Savings Time!).
As is my wont when traveling, I was trying to catch up on news.
But I stopped on the New York Times story about the memorial March in Selma, Alabama, over the weekend.
I’m not ashamed to acknowledge that, right there in Sammy’s restaurant (where the profits go to local children’s charities), I cried. Briefly . . . But I cried.
This wasn’t about sentimentality. It wasn’t about remembering friends or family members who were there. It wasn’t even about the simple fact of the power of collective public action, 50 years ago and today (which can be a very moving thing to witness).
It was about my kids. About my university students over these last decades. About a conversation salted with racial references to “they” and “those people” that I still find it difficult to forgive. About an excellent lawyer of judicial temperament defeated for election to a position on the bench she already held based, certainly in part, on an overtly racist and widely distributed mailing contrasting pictures of the white and black candidates with the caption “The choice couldn’t be more clear.”
Of course, that mailing was right. Still is.
The choice couldn’t be more clear.
We may disagree about the extent to which racism (and, more generally, ethnic prejudice) is endemic to our society. We may disagree about the extent to which any particular policy adopted by an organization or a government fosters fairness and mutual respect or discrimination and prejudice. We may disagree about our personal and collective duties to address both present and past discrimination and its effects on the lives and livelihoods of individuals.
But one would have to be deaf and blind not to recognize that we still struggle with race and ethnicity. That some people, on some occasions, are treated differently (better, worse) because someone makes an assumption (correct, incorrect) about how they should be “classified” and considers the classification relevant.
Things are better in many ways. One need only examine our nation’s uncomfortable history of welcoming and rejecting, of incarcerating and liberating, to see that things are better. There are words we rarely use, ways of thinking we are disinclined to accept as appropriate. We even make conscious efforts, individually and institutionally, to address past wrongs and persistent disadvantages.
But there still is work to do.
For the sake of my children, I hope we (and they) will accept the challenge, helping us to fulfill the promise of one nation made of many nations, not identical but unified, rejoicing in our diversity, sharing a single, common destiny.