PHOENIX — The most famous and most replayed excerpt from Dr. Martin Luther King’s I Have A Dream speech from Aug. 28, 1963 is this:
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.
In the half century since he spoke those words, much has changed. As Americans we are less likely to judge people solely because of the color of their skin. But if we are honest with ourselves, the vast majority of us still judge.
The other day I asked a question on Facebook: “What is the first thing you think of when you see a homeless person?” The responses varied.
Some said they feel pity. Other said they want to help. A few shared different thoughts. Some said they didn’t believe the people they saw at their freeway exit ramp were really homeless. More said they believe that person will take the money they receive and spend it on booze or drugs.
This is called “prejudice.” The word’s very definition is prejudging someone or something without knowing all the facts. Yet, we do it all the time. We do it without knowing those facts. I do it. You do it. Everyone does.
To extend Dr. King’s dream even further I’d encourage us to think beyond our prejudices based on race. Yes, racial prejudice still exists. They probably always will. But we should all work to prejudge people less; whether they are black or white, gay or straight. Whether or they have tattoos or wear hoodies. We judge people based on their political beliefs all the time. We do it before we know their story and their reasons.
The other day I left a grocery store and I saw a woman slowly wandering around the parking lot. She seemed to have no particular place to go. That’s when I started to prejudge her. My first thought went to drugs. It was then that I caught myself. I have no idea who she is. I don’t know her name. I don’t know what she was doing there in that parking lot but I somehow had figured out her whole life story in just a few seconds.
I didn’t prejudge her based on her race (she was white), rather I judged her because of what she was wearing and how she seemed to be acting. She may have been the nicest lady in the world. I’ll never know.
If we are truly honest with ourselves prejudice is prejudice no matter which form it takes.
Prejudice is big part of being human but it’s part which we can work if we think of the true vision of Martin Luther King, Jr. It’s a challenge and a difficult one at that. But much like the Civil Rights struggle, it is one that can be attained with a willingness to change.