In observance of the holiday, I texted some people, “Happy MLK Day” and even advised one white friend to hug a back person, to which he replied, “haha,” but I was serious. I believe in the power of small actions leading to bigger things.
As a matter of fact, when I rolled up into the bikram yoga studio, the first thing I did as I signed in was bid the yoga teacher at the reception desk, “Happy MLK Day!” He thought for a second and acknowledged, “Oh, yeah. That’s today.” Without missing a beat, I asked him, “Have you hugged a black person today?” He burst out laughing and said he hadn’t. I told him to come from behind the desk to do so. In due time, I hugged everyone in the reception area.
I’m normally not that early for class, but fortunately, on this holiday, I was. The female yogis from the previous class were still in the locker room when I entered. I announced to the room, most of whom I knew either by face or name, “Happy MLK Day! If you haven’t hugged a black person today, then you can hug me, so you can say you did something in observation of the day.”
They all seemed amused by the idea. I put down my things and hugged every woman there, no matter her state of undress. One woman even asked for my name since I didn’t care who was known or a stranger to me. All I really cared about was if the impending recipient welcomed the hug prior to embracing her.
I didn’t take a tally, but I’d guess I managed to hug around 20 people through that one trip to the yoga studio before and after class. Who knows the ramifications of such a random act of kindness, but some mothers proudly boasted of teaching their kids about MLK in observance of the holiday.
What this day has come to mean to me is how I can walk through the front door of places where I shop. I use the women’s facilities that exclude the adjective “colored.” I’m not hassled when I register to vote and I conveniently save time voting early where there’s no line. I graduated from a predominantly white university. The list goes on.
And yet, the struggle continues. If anyone thought racism ended when Obama became president, I hope they can now acknowledge it’s back. One surefire way racism, or any “-ism” for that matter, becomes institutionalized is through taxpayer-funded laws.
What I know to be true, both from reading historical-based books, and my own personal experience is that no matter which category of people are targeted to be discriminated against, we blacks always make the short list of hate. We may not be at the very top of the list, but we’re on the list, nonetheless. That’s why I’m always vigilant whenever asshole politicians start down some illogical path to legislate against someone who either isn’t breaking the law or, using illogical means to deal with illegal activity to persecute people of color.
After all, if the government truly wanted to crackdown on people who used illegal drugs, shouldn’t a whole slew of cocaine-snorting, prostitute-fucking hedge fund managers and bankers be serving time with extraordinarily long mandatory minimums?
The way I see it, if some version of a bathroom bill ever successfully barred transgender people from using a public restroom then expanding that bill to include blacks wouldn’t be too far down the line. Not as incredulous as it may sound at first blush, given the fact that transgender people have been using public restrooms for quite a while now. If banning one group of people from public restrooms makes paranoid conservatives feel safe, then surely banning blacks will make them feel even safer. Like the days of Jim Crow.
Speaking of the paranoid conservative good ol’ days, the time’s about ripe again for some racist organization to seriously suggest shipping blacks back to Africa. If ever the logistical nightmare and funding were ever figured out to deport the estimated 11 million undocumented Americans, you can best bet African Americans would be next. Hell, they’d save money putting us on the same planes since most of us have no more cultural ties to any African country than we do to a Latino country.
[Sidebar: Thanks to my father serving in the Air Force, my family was living in Okinawa, Japan when I was born; so I may have some legal ground, if ever my rights as an American were ever dissolved, to be sent to Japan. I’ve never looked into it since I’m optimistic that my rights as a citizen of the US will remain intact, but as a fiction writer and poet, I exercise my imagination.]
A hundred years ago, the hated religions among paranoid Americans were Catholicism and Judaism, so this Muslim ban that keeps rearing its ugly head like a B-movie villain that’s damn-near impossible to kill doesn’t surprise me. And yet, it didn’t take too long, in racist political time to make Africans and diaspora Africans living in “shithole” countries an honorary religion. Because, as I’ve previously stated, blacks, in this case, from other countries, always make the short list of American conservative paranoid’s people to hate.
It’s easier to hate people you don’t know. The more sequestered from the targeted group, the easier it is to demonize them, hype their evil characteristics to the point that any far- fetched theory sounds plausible. My latest favorite is the politician who said that blacks cannot handle the effects of marijuana. Hell, that almost sounds benign compared to the pseudoscientific “facts” about how blacks are genetically inferior, which leads to our diminished intellectual capacity. And how about the pseudo-religious conclusion that blacks don’t have souls, which justified enslaving us prior to 1865 even though slavery was forbidden in the slave masters’ Bible?
Yet, when someone experiences counterexamples to what they believe to be true, it’s a little harder to be so pious with one’s hate. Even if the seed of doubt isn’t verbalized, it’s still been planted. Some will second guess that the targeted group aren’t ALL that bad. Doubt shines like a ray of hope. The sliver of truth piercing through the combined thick fog of ignorance and fear may be confusing initially, but if the seed of doubt is ever cultivated then fear and ignorance recede.
The “others” transform into human beings for whom empathy is given. I’m not sure the best way to cultivate those empathy seeds, but an occasional hug cannot hurt.