On Monday I rolled out of bed a little later than usual. I slept through my alarm and rushed to Woolsey Hall in order to watch over the Martin Luther King Jr. display. I sat in the rotunda for two hours as some people rushed past and others stopped to study the photographs of Dr. King, read his quotes and watch the “Eyes on the Prize” video about the integration of Central High School in Little Rock, Ark.
Although this was a very small activity, I wanted to take part in the making of history by participating in the first campuswide, daylong celebration of MLK Day.
Throughout this past week, we’ve all heard the arguments for and against Yale’s observance of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Day, including why other holidays should also be celebrated, or how most students will just sleep through the day’s activities.
The truth is, they don’t matter at all.
If you are not in favor of having a day of classes switched to celebrate the legacy of a man who is arguably the most important American figure of the 20th century, that is your prerogative.
But for me, in the wake of Sept. 11, King’s message of social justice and equality is even more important and pertinent to America.
No matter how far we have come as a nation, the fact that in the wake of a national tragedy Americans turned against other Americans in hatred and violence is proof that we still have miles to go before we reach the mythical valley of King’s dreams.
Just five months ago, reports flew of Arab-Americans, Asian-Americans and Muslims being attacked in their homes, on the streets, and in their places of work. It seemed every person who was even slightly brown was subject to racial profiling on the highways and in the so-called friendly skies.
According to some organizations –like the South Asian American Leaders of Tomorrow — during the week after the terrorist attacks there were 645 incidents of backlash within the United States, with some resulting in death and serious injury. And even those who were not physically hurt have sustained injuries to the spirit. We’ve all heard stories of Muslim women who were scared to leave their homes, Sikh men who considered taking off their turbans, and Arab-American men and women who were afraid to fly.
All of these incidents took place, not in 1865, 1919, 1945 or 1968, but in 2001. Is this the way we treat our fellow Americans?
Just as in King’s time, Americans scape-goated people who were different from themselves. During my shift in the rotunda, I watched the video over and over. The scary thing was that instead of interviewing high school students protesting integration in Little Rock, Ark., it could have been in anytown in the United States in the past few months. The students said things like, “they’re just different from us” and “they shouldn’t be going to school with us.” Only today, the ‘they’ is no longer African-Americans, but South-Asian Americans.
Look how far we’ve come.
This violence, clearly unjust and unmotivated, is simply a symptom of the larger problems of inequality and racism that continue to exist in the United States. Americans do not know other Americans, and therefore, it is okay to turn on your neighbors in retaliation for the deaths of thousands.
If this is the way we want America to continue, then there is no reason to celebrate King’s legacy. If we want to perpetuate stereotypes, then King’s birthday isn’t really that important. If we are not committed to social justice and equality, then Jan. 21, 2002 was just a day to catch up on sleep.
For myself, I want to be counted as someone who recognizes the important legacy of the struggle for social justice and equality in this country. That is why I got out of bed on Monday morning, and why I sincerely hope everyone else on this campus did as well.
“The struggle continues.”
Najah Farley is a junior in Calhoun College. She is the former co-president of the Black Pride Union.