I wasn’t alive when Martin Luther King Jr. made his famous speech during the March on Washington in 1963. My parents hadn’t even met each other yet. However, my life was changed by what he did, and eventually he gave his life for this change.
Every year we set one day aside to remember his legacy: School children take a day off. The local news puts together a short segment on his life, but then we never think about it again until the next year.
How many of us have taken the time to think about how his legacy has affected our lives? Martin Luther King’s life changed my life.
Has he affected yours?
The family I married into is probably one of the most black-white integrated in the country. I’m white, and my husband is black. My mother-in-law divorced when my husband was a baby, and then she remarried a white man. My brother-in-law is black, and his wife is white. Although president-elect Barack Obama was born before Martin Luther King Jr.’s famous “I Have A Dream” speech, interracial families were an oddity back then. Nobody bats an eyelash at us today.
The family I grew up in is about as white as they come. All of my ancestors are of European descent. Some of them came to America with the first Jamestown colonists. I grew up in a white little town. For the first 13 or so years of my life I didn’t even know that I knew any black people. That wasn’t really the case, I had a black friend that came to my fourth-grade birthday party, but the town was so white I didn’t even realize it.
My husband, on the other hand, grew up in south central Los Angeles. His father was abusive to his mother, and my future mother-in-law had the good sense to leave him when my husband was a baby. My mother-in-law was a black single parent of two young children in South Central Los Angeles. I have heard stories of how they were so poor, they would sometimes have to share one can of beans for their meal, because they didn’t have anything else.
Without the legacy of Martin Luther King Jr. we probably never would have met. My mother-in-law worked hard. People judged her on her work ethic, not her skin color. She got promotions, moved into safer neighborhoods, and raised her children to believe that they could do anything. For nearly all of her working life, she has been living the dream that Martin Luther King Jr. talked about.
Today, most people think nothing of seeing a multiracial family. My children’s generation seems to care even less. I remember once, a child at the day care I was working at asked me, “why is your daughter a different color than you?” But the question was asked by a four-year-old out of curiosity, not out of maliciousness.
My parents and grandparents have changed as well. As a child, I remember my grandfather using a racist word when referring to a black doll. He wouldn’t dream of using the word today. Not only are my children biracial, but they invite a couple of biracial children without stable home lives to many of our holiday gatherings. Without the change of thinking about race that King brought to our country, none of this would be possible.
America is not perfect. There is still some racism in this country. Among most people, however, it is not acceptable. Things have changed because of the legacy of King. .We elected a biracial president. We can have friends of whatever race we want. We can truly judge people on the content of their character, not on their skin color. That is a change for the better, in my book.