Last week I had the conversation about race I’ve come to expect with each of my young children around Martin Luther King Day. This time it was with my six year old daughter Lourdes. As we waited for her 8 year old brother to be let out of their almost completely Hispanic school, she talked about the dreaded bus.
"Mami, it used to be that when you got on the bus, you had to sit in different places, depending on the color of your skin," she said in horror. I nodded, making a face of disgust. Then I waited for the inevitable. “Mami, our family would all be split up! We could never ride the bus. Nene and Mana (our red-headed 8 and 16 year olds), they could be in the front row with Papi. You and Lucas would have to sit WAY back in the last row. And Nico I think could sit in the middle.” And then her little face crumpled: “I don’t think they’d let me on the bus at all!”
Our culture has grown increasingly utilitarian, categorizing people now as “wanted” or “unwanted”, their lives sometimes “not worth living.” This is no longer done on the basis of race, but on the basis of stage of development or physical and mental condition.
You see, Lourdes is our fifth child and we adopted her from China. So she’s an Asian Latina. I tried to explain that to the census taker recently, but the lady was having none of that. Our Latino family is all mixed up, like many, if not most, of American Latino families. My black great grandmother descended from slaves, my grandfather they called “El Moro” from the southernmost part of Spain, my great grandfather James Hillary emigrated from New Zealand, and these contributed just some of the genetic material in my children. I would like to think that there is some Taino indian in there too, for completion.
A little lost to my children in the story of the bus is the message of Martin Luther King, the message that took hold of a country that needed desperately to learn it: Men are brothers, regardless of their skin color and origin, because they all share a common, splendid humanity. Or, as I explained to my little Lourdes: All people are human beings and therefore equally valuable, no matter their culture, color, or class. Dr. King would be very pleased that this idea has been widely accepted in the arena of race since his death. I know he would be happily stunned to see a black man in the White House, the leader of the free world.
But I also think he would be horrified to learn that the defense of human dignity has very sharp margins, and excludes the most vulnerable among us. Our culture has grown increasingly utilitarian, categorizing people now as “wanted” or “unwanted”, their lives sometimes “not worth living.” This is no longer done on the basis of race, but on the basis of stage of development or physical and mental condition. Some human beings are not considered persons at all, and their elimination by abortion is an established right of free women.
Abortion thins the ranks of minorities, especially African Americans, but also Latinos. Among black women, there are 501 abortions for every 1000 live births, and the ability to achieve this dizzying statistic is considered to be some kind of privilege! I believe Martin Luther King would be in total agreement with writer Ms. Mathewes-Green who said: “Abortion is not a sign that women are free, but a sign that women are desperate.”
The world has changed a lot since Americans sat in buses according to their race. Some of the changes have been wonderful, and have promoted the cause of human dignity immeasurably. In other ways we’ve regressed terribly. Women’s desperation and hopelessness, the lack of fatherly responsibility, and most importantly, our loss of the ability to see in each pregnancy the tremendous human potential that lies just beneath the surface, are tragedies as painful as the ones Dr. King fought against.