This three-day weekend celebration of the life and legacy of Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., is particularly poignant as it marks the 50th anniversary of his assassination. Fifty years ago, we were stunned into a pact to be a better people. Fifty years ago we decided we finally would embrace the simple foundational premise of this nation – that all men are created equal. There would be no second-class citizens. We would be an integrated national community. That’s the America I was born into in Atlanta, Georgia, on the cusp of the so-called “Gen X” generation.
I did not go to segregated schools, and the other vestiges of structural segregation were largely erased before I knew them. Racial slurs resulted in social shunning, and no “good” parent allowed their kid anywhere near a bigot for fear they would be infected with the disease of racism. I have Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and many other leaders of the Civil Rights Movement to thank for the luxury of my youthful ignorance of segregation, and so do many of you. With age and experience, however, that luxury has turned into a profound responsibility. A responsibility that requires that we remind and warn our communities and the world of the dark path our forefathers traveled through racism: the injustice, the broken human spirit, the violence, the tragedy, the horror.
For months now, we have seen the politicization and desensitizing of bigotry and racism. We have been asked to look past it for the purported improvement of our economic condition or for the furtherance of a conservative ideological agenda it is suggested we follow. Too many have chosen to ignore the obvious – for instance, the revelation that some conservative immigration policy is meant to limit people of color from reaching the American dream, and that some leaders of the conservative movement believe White Supremacists are “good” people with a legitimate view. Conservatives of good conscience have been asked to stay silent so as to preserve their relationship with the only party they have ever known. In doing so, they are being asked to sell their soul to the devil of racism and way too many are lining up to do just that. After all, a tax cut is the reward.
This is not “politics.” Politics is the debate of honest ideas and philosophies regarding governing. Racism is the belief that one race is superior to another. Stating, as our president has, that blonde-haired, blue-eyed Norwegians are immigrants favored over those of a darker hue who hail from African nations and Haiti, is offensive, racist and un-American. No one, and certainly no U.S. Senator, Mr. Perdue, can stand mute in the face of a president (or any person for that matter) degrading and disrespecting another human being on the basis of the color of their skin, even those that do not currently share our status of citizenship but who so yearn to be a part of the American dream that they would die for the opportunity. Yet, this complicity to divisiveness and hatred has come to pass.
What we are experiencing, friends, is racism, not politics, and there is no better time than the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. weekend to renounce it. The first sentence we learned to type back in the day was: Now is the time for all good men to come to the aid of their country.
And, so, it is.
Teresa Pike Tomlinson is mayor of Columbus, Georgia.