I've been talking about race a lot lately. A lot more than normal, anyway.
Today The Boyfriend and I had the opportunity to see a morning movie (the best kind of movie - they're half price, usually not packed, and tend to have a less annoying crowd) and since 12 Years a Slave was still playing, likely thanks to its Oscar nomination, we figured that was the most appropriate choice for Martin Luther King, Jr Day. 12 Years a Slave is not an easy movie to sit through. They make it clear at the beginning and end that the movie is based on a true story - based off the first hand account as told in the book by the same name, written by the main character.
[Spoilers] The main character, a black freeman named Solomon, a New York musician who appears to be well respected in his community, is kidnapped and sold into slavery with a name change and a very bruised spirit. Though he has two… colleagues, of sorts… with him, who together decide that keeping their heads down and not letting on that they're educated or - heaven forbid - are freemen, Solomon is soon alone to fend for himself. For years he's shuffled along from one slaver to another, some relatively decent (for slave owners) and some so horrible it was hard to keep looking at the screen at times, always looking for the opportunity to find his way back to his real life. He eventually finds it, in a sympathetic Canadian who takes a risk by contacting Solomon's former associates to send his free papers, and the end of the movie brought the whole theater to tears. Not even kidding, there was sniffling all around us. I had brought a few tissues because I'm still dealing with the after effects of the flu, but The Boyfriend and I ended up using them to dry our eyes before heading back out into daylight. It was rough.
Martin Luther King Jr feels extra prevalent as an icon now than when I was a kid, and having the day off in remembrance of him makes me even more aware of this. Today MLK stands for more than just racial equality, he stands for all that is and should be right with humanity. He stands for racial equality, sexual equality, respect for animals, and respect for the earth. His words - spoken at a certain time and for a certain cause - are being attributed today to a whole slew of causes that are just as important as the one he campaigned and died for.
I feel particularly lucky to have had the opportunity to be so reminded of what MLK stood for because I have a boss who, I imagine, feels particularly connected to the man's cause. Martin Luther King Jr Day is an important day for LGBT campaigns, and for a gay man (who gives his employees the day off, with pay) it seems appropriate that he wants us to recognize it. And I'm glad that today we saw 12 Years a Slave, and not The Wolf of Wall Street.
A little over a week ago I was driving with my boss to a client meeting and we got on the subject of race and sexuality in San Diego. I told a story of how The Boyfriend and I were approached in Home Depot by one of their marketing team and asked if we were planning on a major renovation in the next few years (kitchen or bath remodel). The implication I got was that Home Depot was looking for a way to get some publicity; The Boyfriend was having none of it, thinking that it was a scam at worst or a ploy to get him to do more work on his condo than he wanted at best. I had thought the marketing guy was looking for a couple they'd be able to promote about the cool things we did with Home Depot supplies/labor, and finding an interracial couple was a relative gold mine for publicity. My boss agreed, adding that we're such a good looking couple (awww) that they'd probably have promoted any work we did with Home Depot like crazy, adding further that we could probably easily exploit our relationship if we wanted to. (He also added that if we had kids we'd be pretty much exactly the perfect "family of today," but I didn't mention that kids aren't part of the plan.)
My boss brought up the fact that I probably don't see my boyfriend as someone different than me because there's a different in our skin color. Which is true. I might have grown up in a predominantly white town, but while I noticed differences in appearance it was like I was noticing hair color - some people just have different hair color than I do, and some people just have different skin color than I do. That never made a difference in a person's personality or abilities, and I never got the impression that others felt any differently (though as part of the racial majority I'm not exactly one to speak with any authority on that, and I was occasionally guilty of saying things that were taken in a totally different context than I meant them or would have even understood at the time). Having since moved to San Diego, where there's far greater racial diversity, and living in the time I am, it's almost unfathomable that race is that big a deal to some people. Which is why watching things like 12 Years a Slave is so difficult. The characters in the movie believed in slavery. They used the bible to not only justify keeping other human beings in slavery, but blamed the slaves for their own circumstances using the same bible verses. They didn't want to hear that their slaves were potentially freemen in other states. They didn't want to hear that they might have had other names, that there might have been wives and children and humanity somewhere else. Slaves were property, no different from horses or dogs, to do with as they pleased because god gave them to the slavers. They had not only the right to own these people, but the duty to judge and punish and kill them for the slightest disobedience, real or imagined.
Our conversation turned to my boss's experiences as a gay man, living with his husband in San Diego and other parts of the country. My boss was born and raised in a very, very small town in Louisiana that I still can't pronounce or spell properly. He eventually moved to New York, where he met his husband, and they moved to San Diego together, living in Colorado and one or two other states in between. He talked about their experiences walking down the sidewalk holding hands, how it's still not normal enough to not get odd looks (whereas The Boyfriend and I are almost entirely ignored because our relationship isn't unusual here), and how they are introduced to so many hairdressers because straight people only seem to have that one connection to gays (but bless them for trying!). There's still a disconnect between the LGBT community and everyone else, just like there was between whites and everyone else just 50 years ago.
I wonder how Martin Luther King Jr would have felt having lines from his speeches being borrowed for other causes. I have to believe he would be proud, because a man can't repeatedly preach about equality for all, talk about respect for women, gays, animals, and the environment and not imagine that his words would be used for something even greater than he meant at the time. And I'm glad that I was able to think so much about his legacy today. There will always be differences between men and women - women can't help that men can't have kids, and that will probably always contribute to our lower pay and limit our career choices. But there aren't differences between whites and any other race, or straights and gays, and I'd like to think that one day, hopefully while The Boyfriend and I are still alive, we'll be able to see these perceived differences disappear completely and whites and non-whites and straights and LGBTs are 100% equal in every way.