I was listening to NPR this morning, as I drove the 45 minutes to the nearest Hyundai dealership for warranty work. Steve Inskeep was on, talking with Juan Williams. The emphasis is mine. Discussion to follow. Timing is marked in parentheses after the quotes. Here are some snippets:
Steve Inskeep: President Bush is expected to attend today's funeral in Atlanta for Coretta Scott King. The wife of civil rights leader Martin Luther King, Jr. died last week at the age of 78. After her husband's assassination, in 1968, she became known as the keeper of his legacy. And for many her death marks the passing of an era. (0:0-0:17)
Juan Williams: ... so in a way, I think, Steve, what you see here, is .. in .. uh .. a total acceptance and embrace of the Martin Luther King, Jr. legacy, as the black middle class in the U.S. .. uh.. progresses into becoming American middle class. I think it's a significant moment in that transition. It's sort of a .. a new black power. (1:23-1:41)
Steve Inskeep: Well, of all the leaders, who speaks for poor African Americans, the kind of people who were brought into the national news by Hurricane Katrina?
Juan Williams: I think there's a tremendous pressure.. uh.. on black middle class not to separate.. black Americans not to separate by class..
Okay, first let's tackle the "wife of" "husband's legacy" bit. I'll say this, there's been too much bunkum hoopla about the assault on marriage. Let's talk straight. Marriage is a partnership between two people. If it's not a partnership, then it's not worthy of the title. And if it is a partnership... let's give it the same legal status regardless of the gender of both parties.
Coretta Scott King and Martin Luther King, Jr. were partners. They were both civil rights leaders. She was a leader before 1968, even if it was more behind the scenes than her husband. But, even if all she had provided was support for her husband, we need to have due respect for the beauty of such a partnership, that renders its participants greater than they would be otherwise.
And in the 38 years since his death (the full extent of my life so far, I might add) she has been a leader in her own right, not merely a keeper of his legacy. Let's give her the respect she is due.
Now, onto the next part. What did Mr. King say those many years ago:
"I have a dream that my four children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character."
We perpetuate the prejudice by perpetuating the argument that the color of one's skin, or the language spoken at home, or what have you, is the proper determinant of who we are. Who we are is the product of our background and our experience. It is influenced by what we think and expect of ourselves, and what is thought and expected of us. That is to say, class matters, at least as much as skin color.
The point of the civil rights movement has properly been the dismantling of prejudice itself and its effects. To categorize any group of people on the basis of external or abitrary features is by its very nature perpetuating the very thing that Coretta and Martin King sought to redress.