Submitted by William Elder.
Hey, happy birthday, Martin! Though you are not around to see it, I am. Cool and cloudy here in the Pacific Northwest, about like usual.
Reflecting on when you were around, I try not to think about race. Race, for me, is a Nineteenth Century concept, used mainly by the British— and their colonies, of course— to justify their conquest of the rest of the world as one of the Western Powers of Europe. They had the superior armament, the manpower, and, most important, the means of transporting them wherever they choose— to intimidate, attack, defeat, and subdue local forces and their often corrupt leadership. Fittingly, Winston Churchill was colonialism’s last big advocate in England. He thought in terms of race.
No, I like to dwell on the human race in the here and now. I don’t care to fight yesterday’s battles— glorifying yesterday’s heroes, licking yesterday’s wounds. There are those who still do though, whose wounds are too fresh, maybe too deep, whose scars itch them to this day. Fine, hold back, nurse those scars in whatever colored skin you happen to have. I understand the temptation to do that.
It didn’t matter to those carloads of rednecks, back in the Sixties, in Charlottesville, Virginia— yeah, same one— who beat the hell out of us for standing up for Black protesters at Buddy’s Restaurant who dared serve them. Wasn’t a Black face among us. Still we stood. And got the crap beaten out of us. You know, Martin, blood tasted about the same then as now.
We were UVA students, college kids. We understood, from study, that skin pigment, hair and eyes color came from melanin, produced by cells called melanocytes. Everybody’s got ‘em, just in different amounts. Try explaining that to rednecks who were busy trying to break your smart-ass jaw. But that was then.
I try to remind my Black Lives Matter friends of those same simple scientific facts. Few are interested. Anger roils on, blindingly red. Time has now come for them to take a turn, to bust some jaws, and the angriest among them are oh-so ready.
Which is why it is the human race, not its petty divisions, that interests me. We have so many common problems in this country, on this small planet. It is the very same argument that made me struggle in the past for racial equality, female equality, age equality— trying to welcome in all human resources, from wherever, whatever your melanocyte count. Reach out to me in return, tell me something, educate me, and I’ll hug you right in. Simply said, we need all of us— our best cooperation, best ideas, our best efforts, acted on and carried out— if we are going to survive as a species, as a nation, even as fractious parties, as families, as individuals, standing tall, proud, on our own two good feet, while at the same time holding onto the compassion, the will, and the resources to aid those who can’t.
So, look, Martin— my uncle was a Martin too. l miss you both. For you both taught me a thing or two of value. There are holes in me where the two of you once stood. Happy b-day, man! And thanks!
The views expressed in this article are the writer’s own.