I believe in The Dream of Martin Luther King, Jr.
Not long after King shared his dream, 45 years ago this week, my white parents moved with their four sons to an integrated neighborhood in Houston, Texas. They bought their first house, one located not far from the university where my father worked.
What they didn’t realize, at first, was that their new home was affordable because the prices had dropped after the first black families had moved into the neighborhood. Many whites, frightened at the unknown and seeing their investments lose value, moved to the suburbs as part of a national trend called “white flight.” Unscrupulous real estate agents helped push them out, scaring them to sell at a loss, then subdividing many of the properties into apartments.
My parents joined with other families, black and white, to post lawn signs that stated defiantly, “My Home is Not for Sale.” They stayed in their home, and remain there today.
Because they stayed, I grew up with a wonderful diversity of friends and neighbors. My first crush was on a Mexican-American girl; my best friend in the neighborhood was black; my classmates at the local Catholic school came from modest homes. My two heroes were King, especially when he became a martyr for justice, and Joe Morgan, the latter an African-American star on my beloved Astros.
It wasn’t until I left my neighborhood and attended a suburban high school, that I became aware of how pervasive white racism still was, even though I had thought, with childish naïveté, that it was over with. I remember how In one class, the teacher brought up the writings of a scientist who avowed that blacks were intellectually, genetically, inferior to whites. My teacher took a straw poll…Who didn’t believe this? Only two in a class of 30 raised their hands: Román Martinez and me. I was embarrassed, angry, and greatly saddened. I wanted desperately to escape my light-skinned self, and become black.
Since that time of disillusionment, I have grieved. I have grieved to encounter, with the help of a college professor, my own unconscious racism, including the ways I benefited from privileges I received only because I was white. I have grieved, as a parent of two girls, to see my children’s school lose some of the diversity that I cherish, due to gentrification. And I grieve now, as our country’s first African-American nominee for president tries to overcome the ignorance and fear that to me are the vestiges of societal racism.
But even as I grieve, I find hope. I find hope as I see my blond, blue-eyed daughter put her arms around her refugee classmate, a very dark-skinned girl from Malawi, and as she kicks the soccer ball to her Spanish-speaking teammate. Martin Luther King’s dream, if tattered a bit by time, is still real, in my life and in many places in the world today.
This I believe.
If you enjoyed this essay, please consider making a tax-deductible contribution to This I Believe, Inc.