I hesitate to say anything about Martin Luther King on the national holiday made in his name because, I dunno, it seems kind of gratuitous. You know, yadda yadda great civil rights leader, blah blah, all that. How his dream is (or not) realized is the subject of much editorial content today.
So here goes anyway.
Yes, we’ve witnessed some pretty dramatic change in America, some for the better, some not so much. Racial inequality still exists, but it has been kicked somewhat toward the fringes of society. I grew up in a nearly lily-white neighborhood, went to almost entirely white schools (until I got to Ohio State).
My kids, though, have benefited from going to integrated schools in Akron. My son told me about a time he was at a McDonald’s with some buds and he was the only white kid in the room. His friends joked about “living the dream,” and in some small way they were.
A couple of years ago I was driving behind a school bus around Macedonia or Twinsburg. The bus stopped and two kids got off: one white, one black. They casually strolled toward home, just two kids who were growing up in the same neighborhood, no big deal. Which is kind of a big deal. That probably would not have happened much 30 years ago, let alone 50 years ago.
In Columbus, where I grew up, the city schools started busing to force integration 30-some years ago. At the time, nobody liked it. Busing was an imperfect solution to a big societal problem. And it accelerated white flight, which further exacerbated the whole segregation problem.
Over time, though, kids started making friends with kids who didn’t look like them. Fast-forward 30 years. Our lives are entwined in a much more diverse community, although segregation certainly still exists. But not at my kids’ schools. I didn’t really experience much diversity until I got to college and then in newsrooms, which were way ahead of the curve in terms of cultivating diversity at the workplace.
About 20 years ago, a couple of years before I worked there, the Akron Beacon Journal produced a Pulitzer Prize-winning series about race relations. They drilled deep, revealing some pretty raw emotions. It was an honest exploration that sometimes went to very uncomfortable places.
And I suppose that’s necessary before we can move on to a “post-racial” society that some (prematurely) hailed when Barack Obama was elected president. I’ve seen and heard plenty of hateful and clearly racist comments about him and Michelle Obama. Clearly, we ain’t there yet.