“I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character.-Martin Luther King
When I taught a pilot class in horticulture at a high school in the Florida panhandle, they told me they were sending me their “most challenging” kids. I think the idea was that I could not do them much harm and since it was a hands-on vocational class, maybe I could do them some good.
One of my students bore a striking resemblance to a young Martin Luther King. Officially my kids were not the best students on campus, but this young man had memorized MLK’s “I Have a Dream” speech and at random moments he would stand up and launch into it, much to the amusement of his classmates.
“Sit down, Reginald,” I would say and he would. I couldn’t help but notice how good he was at it, though. One day when he stood up and started the speech, I sat down and said, “Go ahead. Let’s hear all of it.” He did a superb job, gestures and all-then sat down to a round of applause.
“Pretty impressive, Reginald,” I told him. “So guys, do you like what King said?” My class of all young men, both black and white, said they did.
“How about the part where he said we should be judged on the content of our character not the color of our skin?” They liked that especially well. Since this was halfway through the school year and they already knew that I loved them, I pressed the point. “How about we do that? How about I judge you on the content of your character and not the color of your skin and you judge me the same way?” “Uh, sure,” was the general response.
“Then let me ask you: Do you try to cheat on tests? What’s all this talk about tricking girls into having sex with you? Do you try to smoke weed in the greenhouse? Do you lie to me?” It was very quiet. “Now, do I lie to you, do I try to deceive you? Am I taking advantage of you in any way? Because if I am, now is the time to say so.” It was very quiet. So from now on we will judge each other based on our character. O.K.?”
Nods all around.
Please note: King did not say bad behavior should be excused because of the color of one’s skin. In fact, to fully respect a human being means that you must respect them as free moral agents. A human being makes choices and is responsible for those choices. To excuse bad behavior based on skin color is just as demeaning as judging them negatively based on their skin color. To say they are less than fully human because of poverty, discrimination or a disadvantaged environment is an insult. Victim status never helped anyone-it is inherently a position of weakness. Slavery, poverty and discrimination are real and yet, human beings can overcome those real obstacles-and when that happens it is a triumph of character and a triumph of the human spirit.
Recently I have been studying the Romany (or Roma) people, formerly known as Gypsies. Many European countries want them to get out, so many in fact, and for so long that it cannot be chalked up to garden variety racism. So what is going on? It appears that a significant number are engaging in organized street begging, ATM theft and picking people’s pockets. Obviously not all are doing this, but those who do are quite open and aggressive about it, which ticks people off.
The knee-jerk response of the left is “It is their culture. They are victims of 1,000 years of stereotyping as beggars and thieves.” The knee-jerk response of the right is “They should be killed but we cannot get away with that so just throw them out.” Hitler thought they could be killed and went on to prove it by killing one million of them.
So let’s apply MLK justice to them. Guess what? Stealing is unacceptable. It is never going to be a “cultural tradition” accepted by the victims of theft. It has got to go. As for color, the Romany people come in all sorts of colors and unless they self-identify most would probably be assumed to belong to other ethnicities. They have a fascinating history, a distinct language and colorful traditions and that is all lovely. But guess what? Stealing is not acceptable. It is a moral choice. Cut it out.
It would be racist to say the Roma are all liars, beggars and thieves. It would also be racist to say they cannot help it and so they should be excused. Both positions disrespect their status as fully functional human beings, and Dr. King would vehemently oppose both positions.
Not color, character.
BBC: Gypsy Child Thieves expose’ of Roma children used by adults for theft/begging
Romanipen Nuanced insight into Roma culture (I discovered my foot tapping to their lively music-why don’t we Northern European-types sing and dance more?)