Monday, January 16, 2012

I have a dream -- that today you'll save money on a new living room set?

What is it with the rampant consumerism that makes everyone believe that any Federal holiday would be the perfect time to have a sale? Martin Luther King Day (or, specifically this year, Martin Luther King, Jr.'s Birthday) was the last Federal holiday to be implemented. Yes, President George W. Bush issued a "national state of mourning" that has been called "Patriots' Day" every September since 2001, but it's not an official holiday. It wasn't until 2000 that MLK Day (as it's often abbreviated) was celebrated by all 50 states, even though the law declaring it an official Federal holiday was passed in 1986.

I remember being in school and not celebrating MLK Day. It's not that I didn't want to, it mostly was because the town in which I lived did not have many black people living there. Those who did live there sent their children to other school districts. When I went to elementary school, I was in a different school district where I was the minority and my pasty-white skin tone was a dead giveaway that I wasn't "from around there." So, when just before junior high (or middle school as they refer to it now) my family moved to a new school district, I was absolutely gobsmacked that everyone looked like me. Well, not exactly like me, but you get the idea. We were one of the whitest school districts around. I only knew of one student who was of African-American descent, and she was adopted by a rich caucasian family, so no one looked down upon her. Otherwise, I couldn't believe what my new classmates had to say about anyone of a different race. I remember asking once where the black students were and was laughed at as if my idea of attending school with "them" was in any way appropriate. I missed my black and white friends from my old school district. I also made myself a promise that I'd be sure my kids (if I ever had any) would understand that all are equal. A big step for a fifth-grader.

Eldest Son went to elementary school in a very diverse district where there were many students from many racial, cultural, and ethnic backgrounds. When a new job forced us to move away into a new area, I felt horrible because we'd moved into one of the most racist counties in our state. People there bragged about how anyone not "of the correct color" would be run-out of town and how their children weren't welcome in the school districts. While we were there, Youngest Son was born and a year later, we moved again. We moved back to my original "hometown" (I have a hard time claiming just one) where the racial mix was roughly even at that time. Both boys had friends of many different backgrounds and I was very pleased to see that they didn't pick up the bad habits of those who, in that very economically and intellectually depressed area, felt the Jim Crow laws should never have been abolished. It was hard at times trying to make sure that they kept their focus on equality for everyone instead of listening to the majority that steadily grew who didn't want "those people" in our town.

Now, Eldest Son is in college and making lots of friends with LOTS of different backgrounds. The town in which we live now isn't quite as diverse as where we were, but Youngest Son still remembers that he needs to treat everyone equally and his opinion changes only when someone does something against him first. I'd like to think I've done a pretty good job -- but my work isn't over.

So today we're all sitting at home enjoying some time together because (1) Husband is a Federal employee and all Federal offices are closed, (2) I'm not deployed away from home and even if I was I wouldn't be working on a Federal holiday, and (3) Youngest Son is out of school because the local school district commemorates MLK Day by closing the third Monday of every January. And every other commercial on the local channels is about how you can save money on a car or how a store has extended hours just for today's shopping convenience or even how celebrating this holiday will get you money off your breakfast/lunch/dinner. Where are the celebrations? Where are the parades?? A town west of here did have a commemorative march and a multicultural festival (which is a good thing since it is known for a horrible race crime in the early-1900s) to help people learn about the holiday, what it stands for, and why it's important to remember.

And don't get me started yet on the rest of the holidays that are treated as this one is. Actually, many of them are worse! But never fear, dear readers -- as they come up you'll be sure to get my opinions regarding them.

I sit and realize that the vast majority of students today who are enjoying the day off from school have no idea why the man being honored today has received the honor. I realize that the same majority don't even know who he was or why it's important to remember not just him but the entire movement and all of the historic changes that he, his followers/assistants and his ideas brought to our country. And just like the rest of the Federal holidays (with the exception of Thanksgiving and Christmas), they don't care. What a sad state of affairs it is.

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