MLK a day to reflect on where we’ve been, where we’re going

By Helena Rodriguez

My friend Evelyn Rising is a feisty girl. She’s a classy dresser. She’s intelligent and headstrong and yet sensitive to people’s needs.
Evelyn is a counselor at Texas Tech University in Lubbock. Evelyn, by the way, is black. Some of you may know her. She spoke the past two years during Juneteenth in Clovis.
In 2002, I wrote a column about Evelyn being a victim of racial profiling when I worked for the Abilene Reporter-News in Abilene, Texas. I relayed Evelyn’s account of how she and a car full of friends, all of them black, were driving back from Lubbock to Hobbs one day in her late-model blue Cadillac. According to Evelyn, the policeman who stopped them had an attitude and accused her of speeding, although she had programed her cruise control and later had it checked by three mechanics, all of whom said it was in working order. The cop asked if the Cadillac was hers, where they were headed, and then asked how a black lady like her could afford that car.
Was this racial profiling?
Now get this. When I wrote this column, I got an angry response from a reader who accused me of being racist because I failed to mention the cop was white. “You assumed people would know,” he wrote. Was this man just looking for a bone to pick or did he raise a valid point? That really got me thinking. I knew I wasn’t a racist. It was a simple oversight that not only I, but several editors also missed. But by overlooking this important detail, were we too practicing racial profiling?
That a tough question to answer.
Saturday is Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday. This weekend the media will be filled with footage of this civil rights leader who was known for his nonviolent tactics. Thirty-six years after King’s death, it’s important to look at where we’ve been, where we are and where we’re headed in terms of racial harmony.
We certainly have it better than our parents and grandparents. What bothers me is a lack of knowledge children today have of these historical figures in the Civil Rights Movement.
When I asked my daughter, Laura, recently, she couldn’t tell me who Cesar Chavez was. I took the opportunity to tell her. After all, Laura didn’t grow up in a house with “Don’t eat grapes” signs displayed like when I was a little girl. Like King, Chavez also used nonviolent tactics to fight for farm worker’s rights.
I’ve been a journalist for 15 years, and I’ve sat in on many discussions between reporters, editors and readers on how to cover holidays such as MLK Day and serve our growing minority communities. Do we let people vent and drudge up the past of how blacks, Hispanics and other were wrongfully treated? Some people think drudging up the past creates more animosity. Or do we focus on how things are better now?
I say both.
Children need to know how people sacrificed their lives for their freedom. Someday, they may have to stand up and fight for their own rights, too. There are still some forms of inequality in this country. Racial profiling is one example. Minorities, particularly blacks and Hispanics, are consistently ranked amongst the lowest in education and income. Some people blame this on past discrimination, which kept their forefathers oppressed. That’s a valid point, but it shouldn’t be used as an excuse for continued, self-inflicted oppression.
The point I’m trying to make is that we’ve come a long way since MLK, but there’s still work to do. I agree with some controversial comments Bill Cosby made last May about blacks because the same holds true for many Hispanics. Cosby took heat for stating that many black parents will spend $500 on a pair of sneakers for their kids, but not half that amount for educational tools. Around here, many Hispanics invest a lot of dough into their wheels, and I wonder, “What are they doing to invest in their children’s futures, let alone their churches and communities?”
The key to creating equality is through education. And as a part of this learning process, let’s teach our children that it’s not all about them. They in turn will also be expected to give back someday. They will also be expected to protect their own rights, as well as those of their future children.
Helena Rodriguez is a columnist for Freedom Newspapers of New Mexico. She can be reached at:
helena_rodriguez@link.freedom.com