Written by John Szozda
January 12, 2012
An appliance sale spurs thoughts of Dr. Martin Luther King
I wonder what Dr. Martin Luther King would think about Sears holding an appliance sale in his honor.
Would he be insulted? Or, would he be pleased that retailers like Sears, who avoid controversy for fear of offending potential shoppers, deem the Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. National Holiday so mainstream, they no longer fear a backlash.
It wasn’t always so.
When President Ronald Reagan signed the bill creating the holiday in 1983 he did so reluctantly because he had doubts about Dr. King’s character and he thought it would be too expensive to give federal employees the day off. Some southern states observed the holiday, but they also celebrated a number of Confederate generals on the same day. Arizona didn’t acquiesce until voters approved the holiday in 1992 following a tourist boycott of the state.
The first national observance was in 1986. This Monday we honor Dr. King for the 26th time. The fact that retailers promote special sales on his day shows how far we have come. And, you have to wonder what would have happened if Dr. King hadn’t led the non-violent demonstrations that forced a nation to confront its bigotry and inequality.
What if the message would have been one of armed revolt?
Would he be remembered? Would Civil Rights have come so far? I suspect all of us would have less freedom. If a nation can treat members of one race with less respect and inequality, it can do the same to members of an ethnic group or religion. Or, it can discriminate of the basis of age, gender or sexual orientation. We are all members of an “us versus them.” Pick any spot on the globe and you’ll find racial, ethnic or religious bigotry. In Eastern Europe, it’s Serbs and Croats; in Rwanda, Hutus and Tutsis; in Northern Ireland, Catholics and Protestants; in Iraq, Sunnis and Shiites; in Sri Lanka, Tamil and Sinhalese and in the American west, it’s Hopi and Navajo, etc, etc.
It is a natural survival mechanism to be wary of those unlike us. While that fear can be healthy, it can also isolate us and fertilize our fear of the unknown. We want to protect our families and our property from what we perceive as the intrinsic evil of the “them.” In defense, we arm ourselves and demonize others.
This demonization can become intractable over time, or when the “them” become violent. We then feel threatened and that threat blinds us to the plight of the aggrieved.
Dr. King understood this as did Rosa Parks. By sitting at white only lunch counters, by not sitting in the back of the bus and by Blacks and Whites peacefully marching side by side, a nation was forced to confront its shameful bigotry.
While Dr. King’s mission was to secure equal rights for African-Americans, his message is universal. We are more alike than different. To assuage the fear we have of the “them,” we first need to strip away the stereotype and get to know the “them” on a more personal level. There is no country in the world which does this better than we do. We are the beacon for freedom and equal rights, although we do stumble at times. We are not perfect and we too fight that survival instinct that warns us to fear the unknown.
Our status as a world economic power would not have been possible if, after the Revolutionary War, we had closed our borders to only descendents from England. We have benefitted from the diversity we have cultivated from immigrants. We have benefited from their creativity, their labor and their ideas. Tolerance is the starch that binds this stew of immigrants simmering in our melting pot. It is a key ingredient to us maintaining our greatness in the world.
Here in Northwest Ohio, if the Chinese investors, who purchased the Marina District property, follow through with their plans to create an International Village on the banks of the Maumee River, it is tolerance that will help us grow our community.