“You can’t stop Today, as it comes speedin’ down the track!
Child, Yesterday is history, and it’s never comin’ back!
‘Cause Tomorrow is a brand new day, and it don’t know white from black!”
– from “You Can’t Stop the Beat,” from Hairspray
The first time I saw this musical, I was very surprised at its depth, and relevance. It deals with issues of finding one’s place, and all of us doing that together. Whether it be a fat girl dancing with joy, her fat mother rising above the haters, a black-and-white coupling, a young man being true to his convictions even at risk to his career, a prideful girl learning a little humility, or, my personal favorite, people coming together as equals, no matter their skin color.
That ideal is particularly dear to me.
I grew up in a city that was basically an international way station, which gave us a fairly diverse population. We had white people, black people, natives, Hispanics, people from Korea, people from Romania, and so on. Race, or however someone appeared, was never a big deal, so far as I can remember. We had problems, of course, but not that one. I was never told that there was any real difference between us all, and there was no “us” and “them.”
I was raised knowing that any person is a person, like anyone else.
Of course, I was not entirely ignorant of the problems of racism. I was taught, like everyone else, about the evils of slavery, and the heroism of the Underground Railroad. I was taught about the tragedies of segregation and prejudice under the Jim Crow laws, and the humanity of tolerance and equality, and the peaceful, loving unity which ended Jim Crow. I was taught about the pain, and I saw (and have seen since becoming an adult) the echoes of that pain lingering on for far too long.
Still, those seemed so removed from me, either far away or in the past. Our society might have been scarred, it seemed to me, but it was healing.
I have since been very saddened to not only learn that we had further to go than I knew, but to witness the reigniting of racial tensions, of prejudice and hatred, in my country, and I have learned more keenly about such hostilities across the world. With every new example of racism, be it anti-black or anti-white or anything else, I have longed to see the day when everyone remembers that we’re all just people.
There is no real difference between a black person and a white person, not beyond what you see.
All of us have had to deal with the unfairness of the world, though some lives have been harder than others in various ways. All of us have needed help at some point. All of have ancestors who suffered much, who did terrible things, and who accomplished great things. The history of one race is the history of all races. All of us share the same past, and the same present, and the same future.
However bad it is right now, and however bad it gets, I believe in the dream of Martin Luther King Jr., that we can create a society, if we so choose, where every person is simply accepted as a person. When we know no difference between a black person and a white person, not in how we treat each other, and judge each other, and love each other.
That day, I believe, is coming. It may be longer coming than we want, but it cannot be stopped, and we can make it come faster.
It’s just a matter of what we choose.
I believe in the dream.