MLK Day: Embracing history and service
While, volunteering and service to community are incredibly laudable, my fear is that the historical importance of Dr. King and the Civil Rights Movement will continue to be diluted. The American history I was taught in high school was so watered down that I had no inkling about the horrors that blacks faced in the U.S. My ignorance was compounded by the fact that elders in my family who were born and raised in the south were so traumatized that they never spoke about what it was like living in the segregated south.
It is disheartening to see how uneducated many in the U.S. are about the pre-civil rights era, and the continued struggle that black people have to develop some form of equity for themselves and their families. To hear (read) comments such as “black people need to just get over it”, underscores the challenge of making any progress towards social justice in this country. Even generations of blacks are insensitive. It wasn’t until I went to college and began actively studying this segment of history that I gained some understanding of the great leaders and great sacrifices that were made during this time. Sacrifices of men, women, and children that have gifted me with freedoms denied to my forebears.
The black and white images may allow some to believe that the impact of slavery and segregation on the mental health of black people has long faded. But the stain of oppression and injustice is still ever present. I read with fascination this diary entry, the unknown author openly confessing his ignorance of Dr. King’s legacy, and how his father summarized the impact of this great man in one sentence. There were so many parts of this writing that I identified with, including the behavioral patterns I saw and were taught by my parents. Survival mechanisms – completely ingrained.
"the stain of oppression and injustice is still ever present"
If you think these survival instincts fade over time, think again. The problem is, that some of these learned behaviors are actually counterproductive in the modern era as they exude a lack of confidence and may make black folks more vulnerable to exclusion.
This nation has come a long way. But let’s not get it twisted: Racism Still Exists! And it is negatively impacting the mental and physical health of those who experience it (see article). So yes, volunteer away on MLK Day. But please remain mindful of the struggles that birthed such an amazing leader. And let us work to heal the mental and emotional wounds that are still ever present so we can fully realize the dream that Dr. King had envisioned.