50 years ago today Dr. Martin Luther King stood on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial and made his “I have a dream speech”. This speech along with the Churchill’s “Never in the field of human conflict” and the Reagan “Mr. Gorbachev tear down this wall.” Are among my favorite speeches. Today, as I was listening to it, on the radio, it still manages to make the hair tingle on the back of my neck.
Most of us in Canada have realized Dr. Kings dream, race for a large part is simply not part of the equation. I go around to my corner store to buy lottery tickets or milk, the chap behind the counter is an avid Barcelona fan, so we talk a bit about soccer and he makes fun of my Tottenham team and we both go about our business. The fact that this guy is of middle eastern background never crosses my mind and hopefully his also. It just isn’t relevant. I go and fill up my car with gas at the corner of sixth and Oak, exchange pleasantries with the Indian lady, pick up some samosas and again race is not even something I think about.
In fact one of the most successful families of this town is black and has a museum and street named after them, no one here gives it a second thought – “They are judged by the content of there character”.
Not so much in the States. If you spend any time down there racism has a constant ugly undertone, not just from whites but blacks also. Around 8 years ago I took my family down to Texas on a vacation. We stayed in one of those stilted houses on the ocean in a small town called Surfside Beach. A couple incidents really woke me up to how lucky we are in Canada.
We were in Galveston one day and had a nice lunch on the ocean then decided to go for a walk along the water front. My kids were always interested in fishing so we wandered on to this fishing pier to have a look at which fisherman had caught what. Everyone on the pier was laughing and joking prior to our arrival, a couple of guys were playing dominoes. As we walked onto the pier the atmosphere got decidedly frosty, to the extent that everyone stopped talking, the fisherman avoided us like the plague and looked out towards the ocean. I then realized that we were the only white people on the pier. We had inadvertently walked onto the black fishing pier, without giving it a second thought. We made a hasty retreat and as we did so my son said “Why were all those people so mean to us?” I think my son was 6 at the time, way too young for me to get into the whole civil rights thing. So I think I just said something like they were grumpy because they were not catching any fish.
On another occasion we were shopping in Target and we let our kids pick out one toy each to play with on the vacation. My youngest daughter immediately went to the black doll section (they have doll segregation down there) and picked out a black doll then promptly said “Her name is Baby Gracie”. So we do the rest of our shopping at the checkout a rather large black woman who looked like “Aunt Jemima” picked up the doll before she would check it through and said “You know this doll is black right?” my daughter replied “Yes but I love her”. The woman checked it through with a very puzzled look on her face.
I think the above underlines just how far away from Dr. Kings dream they actually are down there.


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