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Imagine going with some friends to a local restaurant.
You’ve checked in and are waiting for your table.
Another group walks up to put their name on the list, and the host says to them flatly: “We don’t serve your kind here. If you want, you can call in a to-go order and pick it up at the window when it’s ready.”
Your first thought would be disbelief. “Wait, did I just see what I saw?”
Your second thought would probably be anger.
Yet there was a time in this country (and many other countries), where this was so commonplace no one would have batted an eye. That type of discrimination was deeply ingrained, established and tolerated.
And that time was not so long ago.
Even though the United States Supreme Court found segregated schools unconstitutional in 1954, there were many states still practicing segregation into the 1980s. For some states, the response to the 1954 ruling was to attempt ending state-supported public schools. Many segregationists would rather have had no schools at all than to have their white children go to school with African-Americans.
In South Africa, racial apartheid didn’t officially end until 1996.
These types of discrimination across human history have been based on skin color, economic class, religion, gender, age, ethnicity, language. You name it. If there is a human trait – physical, mental, emotional or social - you can bet there are some humans who don’t like it.
We sometimes like to think New Mexico is somehow different. Yes, we have, as the pledge to our state flag includes “friendship among united cultures.”
We are also a state that has seen brutal treatment against and within those cultures.
I’ve seen a number of signs that once hung in New Mexico bars and restaurants bearing messages such as this: “No Indians, Mexicans or dogs.”
As I write this in the wake of the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday, we are more than a half century beyond Dr. King’s death. Most living Americans don’t have a recollection of King even being alive. And this makes it easier for people to misuse and misinterpret his memory.
There are efforts to flip the story, and if you bring up the idea racism exists, YOU are somehow racist. I’ve heard people twist Dr. King’s words about being judged by the content of one’s character, not by the color of skin. Yes, that was his dream. For him it was a conceivable dream, but a far, distant dream he knew he would never see.
We should never forget King gave his life telling the story of reality, not dreams, that people were and are judged by the color of their skin and other differences. He died trying to point out the injustice of that reality, and how it conflicted with the words upon which America was founded, that all men were created equal.