Not too long, a transgender activist was speaking at my synagogue, going on (and on) about the difficulties of being trans in American society today. My eyes soon glazed over and to keep them open, I surveyed the room, catching sight of the one person I knew who lived a different gender than his biology determined. I like the guy (while born female, he lives as a man, so to honor his choice, I call him a guy).
I realized I found the talk dull because while I could never learn to relate to transgender people as a group, I could relate to a transgender individual as a person. I try always to be friendly to that guy as I have attempted to treat fairly the only other trans person with whom I have associated on a regular basis. Shouldn’t the goal of the movement be to treat each person as an individual, judging him (or her) not, to borrow a phrase, by his choice of gender identity, but by the “content of his character?”
As I recall the great speech from which I draw those words on this, the fortieth anniversary of the murder of Martin Luther King, Jr., the man who delivered them, I wonder if a conversation on race is we need to realize his great dream. For so has Barack Obama suggested–that we need just such a conversation. I believe Bill Kristol had the best response to that suggestion:
The last thing we need now is a heated national conversation about race.
What we need instead are sober, results-oriented debates about economics, social mobility, education, family policy and the like â€” focused especially on how to help those who are struggling. Such policy debates can lead to real change â€” even â€œchange we can believe in.â€ â€œNational conversationsâ€ tend to be pointless and result-less.
Those debates aren’t enough. What we really need do is reflect on Dr. King’s words on racial reconciliation and consider their meaning in our everyday lives.
Racial reconciliation does not come through some kind of negotiations where the leader of one group sits down with the leader of another to work out their various differences, like gatherings of leaders of nations, each representing his people. Racial reconciliation comes instead through the myriad interactions of individuals.
Just like my reflections on the transgender activist, I’m sure most Americans, most people in fact, can’t really relate to a group in the abstract, but do on daily basis, ome into contact with people who belong to this or that group. The idea is to see beyond that quality which differs them from ourselves and treat them as the human being they are.
Not always an easy task.
As we remember Dr. King today, on the anniversary of his murder, an anniversary, which Juan Williams notes, marks “the first time he has been gone longer than he lived,” we should first pause and reflect on his accomplishments, seeing how far we have come in forty years. And then ask ourselves what we need do to continue the journey.
And realize that grandiose public initiatives may not be important as modest private action, where individuals reach out to their fellows and seek out the human beings beneath the various and differing exteriors.