“I have a dream…” Martin Luther King, Jr., once coined those infamous words, and more importantly, the great notion that one day in America we’ll all experience true freedom. Most people who take the time to listen to this speech skim past the first part of it (which calls us all to responsibility and is less often quoted). Yet in it are spoken some of the truest words: “their freedom is inextricably bound to our freedom.”
Last July, about two weeks before the riots in Ferguson sparked racial tension and civil unrest across the United States, we took our darling daughter shoe shopping at Payless. She’s still young enough to find pleasure in a small store full of cheap, plastic sandals. And I’m too much of a tightwad to care if she’s wearing anything better, so it works out well.
She spent at least 20 minutes selecting a pair of sandals and a pair of tennis shoes, and then the bell on the door, indicating customers had entered, suddenly got Maggie’s attention. She ran to the front of the store to find a new friend. Any girl within a few years of her age range becomes her friend instantly, of course, but for some reason she was even more drawn to this girl, and it took my breath away.
You see, we live in a small, rural town in the Ozarks. Maggie had never played with a girl with skin of a different color, really, but she was totally oblivious–or seemed to be–and it brought me to tears. I watched them play and couldn’t help but take a few pictures.
It reminded me immediately of my friend Mazie, who I loved to pieces throughout high school (and still do to this day). We tried out together for a statewide dance team and often made the three-hour drive together to practice. Mazie and several of my other friends on that dance team were my only black friends because at my high school, there were no black students at all aside from one male student who only stayed for one semester (and was treated like a total celebrity during his tenure). I didn’t know anything about discrimination or prejudice or any of those things. No one taught me about it, and I guess I didn’t hang around people who talked about it either. I was very naive. I honestly liked everyone for who they were as people, and I felt confused the first time a black boy in high school accused me of befriending him to make someone jealous.
Life got complicated as I got older. I heard more nasty comments from people who’d been down harder roads. I saw hateful looks in people’s eyes, people from all walks of life and with all colors of skin. I’m certainly no longer naive about discrimination. I watch the news and sadly, I’m completely aware of the hate crimes committed recently. It’s gut-wrenching to watch our nation ripping itself apart from resentment and retaliation.
But I have to tell you this.
I’m still just like my daughter.
King’s dream is embedded in my reality, and I won’t apologize for that.
I just love people for who they are, and you’re likely to see my wallowing around in the floor of Payless if I run into Mazie while I’m buying sandals.