The Significance of MLK’s Birthday…

As I write this, we’re only a few hours away from a certain history maker’s birthday and hours away from actual history itself.  I think this story I have for you, though, may give a partial understanding of a failure I am seeing in our lifestyles.

I was sitting at Spring Garden Friday night, and happen to watch some people leave, when I noticed a couple of young black men heading towards the door.  One of them asked why they have Monday and Tuesday off from school.  His buddy had no clue.  It was their girlfriends – who are white (and the reason why I was looking in the first place) who told them that Monday was Martin Luther King’s Birthday (as it is celebrated – according to the news, it was actually Thursday.)  To make it worse, the kid who asked argued with her that it was actually the following Monday as they walked out the door.

Now, barring any sort of tragedy that follows within the next 48 hours, we will be involved in what will be the most historic event in the civil rights movement since Dr. Kings assassination, and yet these two young kids pointed out a jarring thought:  How many people really understand why we celebrate and have these holidays?  For that matter, how many holidays do we have that bare little to no meaning to those who should celebrate it?

The most obvious one to me is Casmir Pulaski, which is celebrated on the first Monday in March in schools, and the reason why we celebrate it I can never remember.  We celebrate President’s Day in place of both George Washington’s and Abraham Lincoln’s birthdays, which are mere days apart and whose presidencies are mostly remembered for the first two major wars America remembers.  (For those who don’t – and if you ever catch “The Tonight Show with Jay Leno” – or even catch the commercials in which show clips of him “Jaywalking” – you know there are people dumb enough not to know this, Those wars would be the Revolutionary war that brought our independence from Britain, and the Civil War, which was mainly fought because of slavery.  And for those of you smart enough to know I oversimplified it, don’t get offended because I didn’t drag out a few books and researched it to satisfy your needs.)  Then there’s Christopher Columbus’s Birthday, celebrated in similar fashion usually around the second Monday of October with a day of school, whose historical significance came prior to the first pilgrims landing here with the “discovery” of America.  (I say that in quotes because it could be argued that the ancestors of Native Americans, still often called “Indians” even though there’s little in common between them and the ancestors of the actual country, originally travelled to America when there was a landbridge between Russia and America that was connected near Alaska – and of which is another separate discussion.)  I am unsure if St. Patrick’s Day is a Birthday or not, but it’s obvious the importance of the day to Irish people (besides the requirement of green clothing and green beer, the latter of which I have still yet to try.)

The rest of the holidays we celebrate have no significance to historic people, so far as I know.  Veteran’s Day, Memorial Day and the Fourth of July were all created for soldiers and wars of different eras, Labor Day is supposed to be for the hard-working people, and Mother’s and Father’s Days are pretty obvious.  Valentine’s Day as also a Holiday I am unsure of.  Christmas, Hanukkah, and Kwanzaa are religious holidays (if I remember correctly), as is Easter – since I am not religious, I won’t step on sacred ground and give info I myself am unsure of.  (Or, in other words, I’m not going to waste time arguing between you nutcase Christians and you nutcase Pagans who believe that Christmas is supposed to be YOUR holiday – it’s not that important to me to figure out which side is right.)  I’m sure that April Fool’s Day and New Years Day, however, have absolutely no connection to historic Birthdays that we currently celebrate.

With all of the holidays we do celebrate, it’s easy to lose awareness of why we celebrate these holidays – and in some cases, we shouldn’t care about the roots of that holiday.  (Seriously, do you think that if Jesus Christ were alive today he’d want people bickering over why we celebrate his birthday or whether it came from a Pagan holiday or not?  I seriously doubt he’d be that much of an asshole – or that God would be that anal, if you believe in him, either.) However, I do think we often forget why we celebrate these holidays beyond Thanksgiving, Christmas, and Valentine’s Day – especially when the holidays don’t involve drinking or remembering someone of some sort.

Sometimes, we forget the reason why we celebrate that day, or what it is we are supposed to remember, which is why MLK’s Birthday bothers me.  It’s not uncommon to hear black people use the same racial slur that White people used to use as a derogatory remark about them to talk between each other, or to hear how they often refer to their women as derogatory remarks and possessions.  I thankfully don’t see amongst everyone who’s black, and I’m just as equally thankful that it doesn’t go on in other races – I don’t see spanish people putting themselves down, or chinese people insulting themselves, for example.

I’m often offended by it, as many of my friends who are black have worked hard to not be considered the same way that people who talk like that often refer to them as.  If I bring up that I’m offended by it, I’m labeled racist – after all, I’m a big fat white guy.  Doesn’t matter if anyone else notices or not.

Martin Luther King Jr. died because he was trying to quit the oppression of white people over anyone who was colored – not just blacks.  He tried doing it in peaceful, non-violent ways, which was part of the reason why he is remembered today.  Among the people who fought for the Civil Rights movement, he is the one we celebrate, and it’s his birthday for which we celebrate that fact and his principals.  If this is where America is heading, where the people for which we celebrate and recognize are forgotten by the very people who should be remembering it – when more white people remember what should be a black holiday – there’s a problem.

Most of you who will read this know I’m not being racist and know I’m not judgmental on a person’s color.  Most of you also know your history, know the significance of the things we celebrate, and are aware of what’s going on in the world today, and most of aren’t bigoted either.  I also know, though, that most of you see these things as I have been seeing them, that we’re putting more importance for people who are bring us down.  This isn’t limited to blacks who are forgetting when MLK’s Birthday is while listening to rap; there’s still a significant number of whites listen to or believe in hateful ways, who are part of supremacist groups.  There are people of other races who believe they can not get out of their ghetto, and who believe they can not escape their surroundings any other way than by being badasses.

Right now it’s an hour before midnight, The Steelers and Cardinals have played their way into the Superbowl, and in a couple of days we’ll have sworn in out first Black President.  The majority of people won’t be celebrating tomorrow or even Tuesday, due to the fact that we have jobs and responsibilities in our lives to which are more important and significant right now.  Most of us normally wouldn’t be making a big deal out of this – to kids and some government workers, it’s just another day off from school or work, and for a good chunk of us who were never involved, or didn’t have relatives involved in the civil rights movement, it’d be just another day.  I think we need to change that.

I think tomorrow, whether you’re black, white, spanish, asian, or even alien, we need to start acknowledging and recognizing why tomorrow – which, byt the time you read this, may be today – is so important and significant.  We need to recognize not just the man whose birthday we are celebrating, but the people who paved the way for Barack Obama to be president, who fought for the rights to allow one of my cousin’s to make it into a university so that she could study law, who fought for the rights that allowed me to meet many of my friends that I met at school or work, or who paved the way for a good chunk of the music I listen to, the TV and Movies I watch, the video games I play or books that I read, to be made the way they are.   We need to get rid of the hate we are used to seeing everyday,not in the music, art, movies, TV or books, where that belongs, but in our own actions and our interactions with other people.  We need to remember the reasons we celebrate or recognize these holidays, not just the ones where we celebrate dead president’s, figureheads of religions, or patriots, or the ones we use as an excuse to get drunk, stoned or stupid.  I wouldn’t be so worried about this if I didn’t know how stupid or forgetful we as human beings are, as this story, and history itself, illustrates.

In short, we have a day in which to preach about how to treat each other as equals, not just by skin color, but by age, gender or sexual preference as well.  Let’s start remembering it and using it for that.

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