Monday, January 17

Ending Discrimination: The Remedy Is Education

Martin Luther KingOf all people recognizing, remembering, or rekindling the spirit of Martin Luther King Jr. today, most will call up and call upon a single speech, binding his ideas to a singular effort even if his compassion branched out much further than most Americans imagine today. But there are are few, who by chance or acute recollection, will remember other ideas that reached even deeper into his convictions and challenged this nation to be even greater.

"I am convinced that if we are to get on the right side of the world revolution, we as a nation must undergo a radical revolution of values. We must rapidly begin the shift from a 'thing-oriented' society to a 'person-oriented' society." — Martin Luther King Jr.

For all the progress we have made in the two score and six years since Martin Luther King, Jr. first called for an end to discrimination on a warm summer day in Washington DC, we have unmercifully and unwittingly added to the weight of discriminatory rhetoric until it now transcends the mere color of our skin and aims to shackle all of us for whatever petty differences we might possess. We are not free.

It is true enough so now that in our relentless pursuit to discover some semblance of equality in this nation, we find ourselves increasingly, carelessly, and equally divided until all of us, at one time or another, feel isolated in our heritage, beliefs, and even momentary successes in life. Black or white. Faith based or faithless. Rich or poor. Man or woman. Red or blue. Fat or thin. We are finding equality in only that none of us is free.

And, it seems to me that it might be a tenuous road if we could ever hope to regain our footing as Martin Luther King Jr. did not prescribe "things" as a remedy for inequality but rather compassion for our neighbors, regardless of our invented differences. True compassion, he once said, is more than flinging a coin to a beggar; it is not haphazard and superficial.

Compassion tests our resolve to treat people equally.

True compassion is in the investment of social uplift programs, which does not necessarily prescribe the equalization of wealth but rather the equalization of potential for men and women to have the freedom to strengthen the content of their character and the chance to pursue reasonable dreams. True compassion does not prescribe handouts that artificially inflate the superiority of those who have the means to provide them nor unjustly hinder those who struggle to maintain their own fragile fortitude while convincing the benefactors that they somehow cannot survive without the generosity of others. True compassion sees no disruption in our resolve for tolerance, even when an offending party might strive to demonstrate their own infuriating ignorance.

King saw the remedy for discrimination as education, specifically an education that provides the ability to think intensively and to think critically. He saw the sole purpose of education as a means to nurture intelligence and content of character. He saw education as an opportunity to better ourselves as people, and not necessarily the amount of things we could afford to purchase nor as a means to preserve our own ignorance by supporting artificial ratios designed to mask our inability to lift people up.

Education provides the first opportunity to prove equality.

Last year, I had a unique opportunity to edit a publication that drew attention to the fact that 68 percent of African-American children drop out of high school in Los Angeles. And yet, after the initial statistical shock, the African-American author did not call for us to give special attention to the disadvantaged but rather pleaded a case that we ought to teach these students early on that they are not disadvantaged. The alternative, he pointed out, is to continually ingrain the notion they are somehow inferior when we know they are not.

While certainly not everyone will agree with his assessment, it did touch me to read his treatment much like many speeches by Martin Luther King, Jr. have touched me. As someone who grew up as a different kind of minority (handicapped and financially disadvantaged), I never wanted people to treat me as deserving of special privileges to compensate me for my so-called limitations. All I wanted or needed then was someone to look past my so-called limitations and likely outcomes based on statistics and demonstrate an unwavering belief that I could be equal if not better despite them.
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