Monday, January 17, 2011

To Boldly Go

The original Star Trek television series aired during the 1960's, when Malcolm X and Martin Luther King, Jr., were struggling to create a society in which character mattered more than skin color.  In that turbulent time of riots, and fires, and anger; mass rallies and peaceful marches, Star Trek presented a future Earth in which color no longer matters and race is not a cause for hate.  We have not yet reached the promised land described by Dr. King or portrayed in that long ago show, but we may be closer now than we have ever been.

The Sixties was a scary time for the little white kid I was at the time.  Too many evenings, Walter Cronkite presided over newscasts which featured bloody fighting in streets, lines of club wielding cops, molotov cocktail fires, and mobilized National Guard troops.  I knew enough about the history of slavery to recognize the ultimate source of the anger.  But given the world created for me by my parents, I did not actually understand that anger.

Prejudice of any kind had no place in my parents' house when I was growing up.  The individual is who mattered.  All people were worthy of respect, at least until their actions proved otherwise.  The bar of soap was at the ready for any child who used an epithet, whether racial, religious, or sexual in nature.

My mother was impervious to the scorn or disapproval of neighbors, co-workers, or Church officials.  She had black friends and co-workers visit our home as readily as she had whites; she permitted her son to attend a friend's bar mitzvah at a time when such ecumenical actions were frowned upon by the Church; she forbade the use of "queer" and taught against following a crowd's prejudice based upon sexual orientation.

Dad was less vocal than Mom, but one story he told from his own pre-school days demonstrates that tolerance is passed from parent to child.  The farm community where Dad grew up was frequented by various tradesmen traveling by horse and wagon.  One such peddler stopped and asked permission to stay overnight at my grandfather's farm.  The man's odd dress, hair, and hat intrigued Dad, and the prayer he said in a different language before dinner prompted Dad to question my grandmother about it all.  Her simple explanation was that the peddler was Jewish and Jewish people just do things a little differently than what Dad was used to.

On this day honoring Dr. King, we need to remember my grandmother's lesson: differences do not make people right or wrong, good or bad; they just make them different.  The sooner we all learn that lesson and pass it on to our children, the closer we will get to the society of tolerance depicted in Star Trek.

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