Martin Luther King, Jr. and my Cushite daughter

Today is Martin Luther King Day.  While this holiday has been observed for most of my adult life, even in Arizona, it has new meaning this year.  Aseres is from Ethiopia and is blessed with beautiful, black skin.  We will bring her home soon as our adopted child with all the same rights and privileges as Owen, Roni or Connor, but she will arrive on the same shores where Africans were brought in chains three hundred short years ago.  Greed brought Africans here as slaves and prompted millions of my ancestors to risk death in a war to keep Aseres’ ancestors in bondage (save me the states rights crap).  Even after slavery was defeated, an entire system of laws replaced it and put new chains of bondage upon the newly “freed” people.  In 1896, separate but equal rail cars (and schools) were upheld as constitutional in Plessy v. Ferguson, which kept another generation in a different sort of chains.  John Harlan (for whom Connor takes his middle name) dissented and wrote:

We boast of the freedom enjoyed by our people above all other peoples. But it is difficult to reconcile that boast with a state of the law which, practically, puts the brand of servitude and degradation upon a large class of our fellow-citizens, our equals before the law. The thin disguise of ‘equal’ accommodations for passengers in railroad coaches will not mislead any one, nor atone for the wrong this day done.

This system remained into the mid-20th century when Rosa Parks got on a bus in Birmingham.  She was simply too tired to move to the back of the bus as the law forced, so she went to jail.  And it fell to an unknown minister to rally against this oppression.  Dr. King fought against the system of separate but equal, and fought so that someday my oldest daughter and my youngest daughter could drink of the same water fountain, ride the same bus, go the same school and sleep in the same motel room.  His story and the stories of all who marched and fought with him are the most amazing tale in American history.  They fought without weapons against dogs, water cannons, police, the government and the church (his letter from a Birmingham jail was in response to eight Christian pastors who discounted his actions as “impatient”).

Today, America is still racially divided and the dream of Dr. King has not been fully realized.  The laws now mandate legal equality, but legislation does not change hearts.  Every school may allow blacks or hispanics to attend, but not every parent allows their children to go to the same schools where the blacks and hispanics are concentrated.  They may blame it on the test scores or something else, but the effect of isolation is just as damning to our kids generation as the legal isolation imposed on our grandparents.  And a good number of the people who congratulate Marissa and I on our adoption of Aseres will not allow their own child to consider marrying our black daughter when they are both older.  John Piper says that “opposition to interracial marriage is one of the deepest roots of racial distance, disrepect and hostility in the world.” (J. Piper, Bloodlines, p. 213 — click for free access to book) This lingering discrimination effects everything — no marriage then no dating, no dating then be careful of common friends, less common friends means less interaction and before you know we have rebuilt walls we thought our parents tore down.  I remember when I was ten, my pastor preached a whole sermon against interracial marriage.  I wish I knew then to ask him to reconcile that Jesus descended from the marriage of Boaz, a Jew, and Ruth, a Moabite, or that God struck Miriam with leprosy for speaking out against Moses marrying a Cushite woman — a woman apparently from very near where Aseres was born who likely looked a lot like her.  At least the arrows Marissa and I have endured for our own marriage position us well to walk Aseres through other people’s ignorance.  We can tell her that opposition to interracial marriage is racism and racism is sin, and we can pray with her for reconciliation.

But there is even less obvious racism that I myself have been guilty of in the past — silence in the face of a “joke” or a derogatory term or an offensive stereotype.  Why didn’t I stand up and say “no” to a bad joke or at least pray for the other person’s prideful ignorance?  Then there is not reaching out to those who live separate and apart on account of race or poverty.  Why have I had so few black friends in my home, or so few from the other side of town?  For my sins, I have found forgiveness through repentance which means I am resolved against a replay of my prior inaction and omissions, because we are all sons of Adam with the same gifts from God and same promise of salvation.

And so today, we marched down MLK street in San Marcos with our kids, our friends and our pastor (no, not that one).  I felt ashamed that our town’s 23rd annual march was the first one I made, but it will not be the last.  Next year, Aseres will join us and the next and the next, and we will patiently endure with her and her oppression will be our oppression, until God breaks every chain.


1 Comment (+add yours?)

  1. Elisabeth Ream
    Jan 17, 2012 @ 01:43:58

    I really, really appreciate this post! Thank you for sharing John. We witness the effects and present realities of slavery every day here in Haiti…but we remember feeling this way back home in TX too. Someday (a long time from now 😉 if Owen became best friends and fell in love with one of our Haitian girls and/or our little Evan thought Aseres was the prettiest little thing he had ever seen, we would think that was pretty awesome! 🙂


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