Note: This was originally published four years ago today.
My daughter just left with her friends to go to the bagel store after having a “mad chill” sleepover at my house. As I write this, they’re off from school for Martin Luther King Jr. Day. I won’t bore you with the Census Bureau numbers but the fact is that this is a predominately white district. Ok, so it isn’t actually the district’s decision to make it a holiday, but, am I the only one who thinks it a little odd? That is, at least if there is supposed to be meaning behind a holiday?
I asked my daughter and her friends about Dr. King. They knew he gave a speech about a dream. They also knew he “did something about ending segregation and was assassinated.” When I was a kid in this district we had off for Washington and Lincoln’s birthdays, before they were merged into one President’s Day. I give my daughter and her friend credit for knowing who Dr. King was and what he represents. It’s a long way from when I was a kid and believed George Washington chopped down a cherry tree but couldn’t tell a lie.
Growing up in Massapequa Park I never met one person of color until I was 17 and working at McDonald’s. The next African American I met was years later in my 30’s and he roared with laughter when I described him as African American. It was hysterical to him that his sheltered white friend danced around politically correct terminology and told me African American was my term not his.
Unfortunately, not much has changed. At least I think it’s unfortunate. Does anyone else wonder about the lack of diversity in our neighborhood? In our schools?
When I moved back to Massapequa several years ago my kids noticed the lack of diversity. They actually got off the bus one day and asked me where all the black kids had gone. Maybe black isn’t the correct terminology anymore but that was what they asked.
Massapequa is a wonderful place to live. We have great schools, beautiful parks, and amazing sports programs and in fairness we’re not the only town on Long Island that lacks diversity. While I did move back from a more diverse neighborhood, it was very divided racially. It had sections and that is something I notice in many neighborhoods.
Dr. King had a dream and our kids are off from school, people are off from work, and government offices are closed to celebrate and honor him. Maybe we don’t judge people by the color of their skin in the same way we did in the early days of the civil rights movement. Maybe we have come a long way. But are we done? Everyone can sit in the front of the bus and at the same counter. There are no longer race restrictions on bathrooms. But there still seems to be a lot of division.
Many of us have read or seen “The Help,” which illustrated just how horrible it was to be a person of color before civil rights and many of us were horrified by the picture painted. But how many of us closed the book or left the move theater and thought about race today or race in our town? How many thought about their kids and their group of friends or student body and thought that maybe there is a lack of diversity. And please, I’m not talking about busing them in to meet a quota. I’m talking about living amongst each other and truly being color blind. Will we ever get there?
When my daughter comes back from the bagel store and her friends go home I’m going to talk to her and her brothers. It’s been several years since they’ve asked where all the black kids are and they don’t seem to wonder any longer. I wonder if it’s racist of me to want them to have friends of color. Do I send them out and ask the first African American they see to be their friend? Doesn’t that make me just as guilty of judging by color? Could that be considered prejudice? I ask that honestly.
I don’t think that the majority of Massapequa is racist but when our racial make up is so different from the rest of the world I have to wonder why. Is it just the way it is and nobody notices? Is it more?
We have come a long way since Dr. King’s speech, but have we come far enough? In the world? In Massapequa?