A Letter to My Children on MLK Day

To My Kids,

You already know today is a day to honor Dr. Martin Luther King. I know you have learned about his legacy in school, and you understand he fought to end racism in America. I know each of you believes Dr. King was a great man, and you hold this day in high esteem. Now that you’re getting older, I would like to talk about some things you may not know, but should.

When I was a kid, I thought that racism would be over by now. I went to school in a very diverse place, near a military base. My friends came from all over the world and they had as many shades of skin color as you could imagine, and we all loved each other. We didn’t think much about it, really. I knew some people were racist, and I even heard some hateful words now and then, but most of the people I knew were smart and fair and kind, and they didn’t believe in racism. I thought the kinds of people I knew were typical of people everywhere, and I thought I would eventually live in a world where things like skin color and differences between people didn’t matter to anyone anymore. I thought that by now, no one would have to talk about race. But I was wrong. 

Racism isn’t over. You are growing up in an area surrounded by nice people, and you will probably never hear most of them say anything racist. I need to tell you that even though you may not see the racism, it’s still around. No one is shouting racial words in front of you, but there are many people who still feel hate for those who are different than them. 

And even if most of our neighbors and friends don’t feel that kind of hate, most people judge each other based on how “familiar” their looks and actions are. They think: Do you look like me? Do you talk like me? Do you dress like me? Do you believe what I believe? People usually feel most comfortable sticking to their own kind. That may sound okay at first, but what if most the people hiring for jobs are mostly the same, and they only chose people like them? Then what about jobs for the people who look, think, or believe differently than the main group? What if a great new club only lets in kids who look and dress the same? What if a business only allows customers who look and think like the owners? Do you think that’s fair?

And what happens when new people come to America from another country to try and start a better life here? Often those people will think and act and look differently, but don’t we all deserve an equal chance? Don’t new and different people deserve to be treated the same as all of us? I think they do.

The fight against racism isn’t over; it has just gotten more complicated. Now we all have to learn to be fair, even when we aren’t trying to be mean by sticking to our own familiar groups. We have to stand up and speak out against treating anyone differently because of how they look or what they believe. Everyone deserves a fair chance.

Now that you’re getting older, you will have to speak up when someone gets treated unfairly, whether it's because of race or something else. Because if you’re not brave enough to say something, who will be? I know this is a lot to ask, but that was Dr. King’s legacy. It’s not about what happened in the past, it’s about each of us helping to create a better future. 


Posted on January 18, 2016 .