(Posted here for those who haven't made the change over to my new blog yet. Get on over there!)
I've always had a special connection to Martin Luther King Day. Before you go thinking that I'm deep, it's because my birthday is January 17th and so this great civil rights leader often provides me with long weekend on my birthday. A pretty selfish way to look at this holiday.
But this MLK Day, I was really thinking about the civil rights movement--probably because of tomorrow's inauguration. As a kid, I didn't really think much about the concept of racial equality. If anything, I thought people made too big a deal over it. From my view of the world, things like racial profiling and segregation were ancient history. Each time we studied American history in school (2nd, 5th, 8th, and 10th grades), we were certain to get through the civil rights movement, even if we ran out of time for Vietnam and the Berlin Wall (when our textbooks actually covered it). I found it hard to believe that any such thing as racism could exist. I guess growing up in Utah, I didn't have many opportunities to see it in action. Once, an out-of-state girl in middle school once tried to convince me that Mormons were racist because there weren't any black people in Utah. Having studied history, I knew in my 13-year-old mind that the lack of a substantial black population in Utah was mostly due to historical factors (being settled after slavery and the Northern migration) rather than active prejudice. Nonetheless, I was sure if there were more black people in Utah, they would be treated just as I treated my Asian and Indian friends in my honors classes--that is, just like everyone else.
Racism and inequality seemed like such ancient history in my eyes, which made it hard to see the necessity of anti-discrimination laws and affirmative action programs. But I realized today that the civil rights movement was something that happened during my parent's lifetimes. Sure, they were four and five years old when Martin Luther King gave his famous speech. (Aside: We watched this for FHE tonight. If all you know is the "I Have a Dream" segment, set aside twenty minutes tomorrow and watch the whole composition.) Closer to home, my dad had just graduated high school when President Kimball announced that the priesthood would be given to men of all races. This is not ancient history; this is a real change within their lifetimes. It cannot be taken for granted because it has not been taken for granted.
History is a strange thing. When does something stop being a current event and start being history? How long does it take for something to cross from the bounds of history into the fabric of what we are as human beings? How long until the idea of accepting other people regardless of appearance becomes second-nature, an unremarkable truth? I certainly don't know, but I don't think that the association Dr. King makes between social equality and the Second Coming is a coincidence. As I said earlier, righteousness will bring these changes to pass, not legislation. But for now, I am proud to live in a country that has chosen to abide by such legislation and is moving one step closer to the time when we all will truly be judged by the content of our character. Congratulations to Barack Obama, and to all of us.