20 January 2014

MLK Day Musings

Legacy is not fate.  

Less than a century ago, Mayor Stapleton presided over Denver on the strength of support from the Ku Klux Klan.  Colorado had more than its fair share of lynchings.

Since then, majority white Denver (at least in its electorate) has had two black mayors, including its current one, and a Hispanic mayor who went on to be a cabinet secretary in the national government.  My landlord is black and once served as the chief judge of the U.S. District Court for the District of Colorado.  The current chief judge of Denver's District Court (the general jurisdiction state court for the City and County) is Latino.  And, our majority white nation, of course, has a sitting black President.  Majority white Colorado backed him in the Presidential election.  There have been (and are) black and Latina justices on the United States Supreme Court.

In Martin Luther King, Jr.'s day, interracial marriages were illegal in much of the nation.  They remain uncommon, but it isn't that exceptional to see interracial couples around Denver.  

The principals of each of my children's schools in the Denver Public Schools are black, and their middle school's previous principal was Latina.  Both my son's middle school and my daughter's high school are substantial contingents of student from every race, although the proportions differ substantially within school within a school programs in each.  In Martin Luther King, Jr.'s day, Muslims were almost unknown outside some African-American converts exemplified by Malcolm X and Muhammad Ali.  Today, my children's schools have substantial numbers of immigrant Muslim students, as well as some converts.

Gay rights have also advanced dramatically in Colorado from the early 1980s when the U.S. Supreme Court made history in overturning an anti-gay ballot initiative adopted here.  We have had several openly gay state legislators, and one of our members of Congress is a gay man.  We have civil unions (although not gay marriage yet) and laws modeled on those of the civil rights movement prohibiting discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation.

The color of a man or woman's skin is no longer a ceiling in this country, and barriers based on sexual orientation are also tumbling.  

We are not in the promised land.  Race and the legacy of racial discrimination are still deeply embedded in our nation's social class structure.  Racism and homophobia are still common, if more muted than they used to be.  Our nation's culture has changed and that cultural change has coincided with political change, with cultural change sometimes spurred by political and legal action and cultural change at other times driving political action.  But, Colorado has managed to shift itself from a legacy as a hate state to a present as a relatively tolerant and inclusive state.



Dave Barnes said...

I hate the date of this holiday.
Way too close to Xmas and New Year's.
Should be mid March when we need a holiday.
Time to move it.

andrew said...

Maybe we should reinvigorate the spring solstice.