On our way to visit my brother and his family in Texas for New Year’s, we had the chance to spend a day in Memphis and visit the site where Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated, in 1968. The former motel has been converted into the National Civil Rights Museum, and I was impressed with how they provided the context and the consequences of Martin Luther King Jr.’s campaign for civil rights. (I’d highly recommend a visit to the museum, if you ever get the chance).
I’m so white I used to see “MLK Day” on the school calendar and wonder why they made a special day for drinking milk. I still feel clueless a lot of the time, when it comes to truly understanding and meaningfully engaging with the struggles that people of color face in our culture today.
But I want to keep learning and growing.
Certainly, I believe that part of the process of learning and growing comes from studying history. Even more than grasping the basic facts and timelines of the civil rights movement, though, I think it helps to experience the struggle. Walking a mile or two in another person’s shoes goes a long way toward making sense of their world. A day at the museum is a good place to start, but it can’t stop there.
I gained sympathy toward Mexican immigrants to the United States when I was an immigrant, fighting through all the red tape that a government throws up to keep me out. I understood an element of the awkwardness that many African-Americans in the United States experience, as minorities, when I lived in a neighborhood where a majority of the residents were Berber Muslims. On so many different levels, I see how our Amsterdam years were good for us.
But how can I continue to learn and grow, now that I’m back in Ohio, back in the majority, back in the place of power and privilege?
We’ve still got a lot of work to do.