There is a phrase from Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech that has resonated deeply in my soul. As a person that grew up in a very homogenous white farming community in Michigan, I only had the thing I read to go on. I read the speech in high school. And this made sense to me. MLK envisioned a future in which his children and grandchildren would be judged by the content of their character rather than by the color of their skin. That is a worthy Dream. That is a Dream that is in jeopardy in our current cultural moment.
A glance at our current climate shows that we will celebrate people as martyrs merely because of the color of their skin. We are very quick to identify the color of a person’s skin. Even yesterday it was in the news that the Attorney General of Kentucky didn’t want to release the information of the demographic make up of the grand jury in the Breonna Taylor case. Are we still stuck at a place where that matters?
We seem to be driving further and further away from that Dream every single day. I read the USA Today on my iPad almost every morning. And the number of articles that include references to the color of skin have increased exponentially. It is in vogue to identify people according to their quantity of melanin.
And let me add that only a blind person would not be able to identify the color of a person’s skin. The dream is not color blindness. There is a beautiful spectrum of colors, features, sizes, and shapes of we who bear the image of our Creator. And yet the Dream has to do with judgment. We do NOT afford someone credit for the abundance or lack of melanin in their epidermis. Rather we let their life show their quality. We give everyone the benefit of the doubt that we would like to be afforded.
We assist all; we love all neighbors as we love ourselves. Nobody should be given benefit merely for the color of their skin. Bad people come in all shapes, sizes, and colors. Redeemed people come in all shapes, sizes, and colors.
I have grown to see the diversity of color as an icing on the cake kinda thing. It is beautiful that our God, who is creative, has made unity and diversity. But I have also observed that our culture is driving too far into giving skin color a weight it cannot bear. When a police officer shoots a man or a man shoots a police officer, humanity suffers. But when a black man is shot by a police officer, are we supposed to suffer differently? What about when a black man shoots someone of Hispanic descent? Do we sit that one out? Or do we get to grieve there too?
I believe that MLK, coming from a Biblical perspective, had a good handle on our common human predicament. He used non-violence to avoid fighting evil with evil. And with his Dream, he changed hearts. He grabbed mine with one turn of a phrase as young man. And I have sought to apply this principle in my life. I give a stranger the benefit of the doubt until he proves himself to be a bad man. I see color with my eyes, but I war against any stereotypes. I assume that when I meet another person, we have some fundamental things in common. We have love and hate, we have a longing for eternity, we have a fight against sin, we have disappointments, and we have our own struggles we have to bear. The shade of our skin is so petty when placed against that backdrop of all the things we bear in common.
I want to be one who is committed to keeping that Dream alive. It has impacted me. And I believe that we would all do well to get back on track looking at character more than a shade of skin. And the character of the average person is given for us through Scripture. We are all sinners. We are all in need of savior. We are all longing for the eternal. And we try all kinds of things to fill this eternal void in our hearts.
What do you see when you see a person? Is it the color of their skin? Is it how they differ from you? Or do you see a person created in the image of God who has a need that you just might be called to fill? Will you keep the Dream of MLK alive? I believe that the world could be turned upside down for good by returning to this Dream!