Judging individual character

Take Dr. King's words to heart this February

Reginald Webb, Times Staff

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Let’s be mindful of Dr. Martin Luther King’s birthday as we transition into Black History Month.

The most valuable lesson of King’s famous “I Have a Dream” speech is his hope that one day Americans would judge an individual by the content of their character rather than the color of their skin.

While we claim to agree, do we actually recognize when we fail in this aim?

In February, let us focus on living up to it. Many might discover that it is a challenge to meet.

For example, the other day I was in line to purchase my merchandise and a black man who had left his backpack at the front counter before  browsing the store, was told by the cashier he had to wait to retrieve it.

He waited about 10 feet away from myself and a Vietnamese woman who was in front of me.

As she paid the cashier, her body language and her glare toward him with fear, apprehension and contemptuous suspicion.

He responded by shaking his head as if saying “here we go again.”

His disappointment was quickly replaced with a retaliatory look of scorn.

I thought to myself, how rude and offensive for her to outwardly greet him in such a way.

He was waiting for his backpack, not to steal her money.

This was the whole of their interaction. No resolution, no correction. Without consequence, resolution or reflection the behavior becomes patterned.

These biases become both explicit, implicit, absent self-policing, unknowingly both reinforce behavior neither one may want.

Imagine how often scenarios like these take place.

This is an appropriate time to be mindful and honest about the difficulty to uphold this standard.

Remember King’s words: “Like an unchecked cancer, hate corrodes the personality and eats away its vital unity. Hate destroys a man’s sense of value and his objectivity. It causes him to describe the beautiful as ugly and the ugly as beautiful, and to confuse the true with the false and the false with the true.”