Let me finish today with a man who would be 81 today. That’s if he had not been gunned down in the midst of his historic work.
Martin Luther King said he looked to the day that a person in this country would be judged not by the color of their skin.
That was an extraordinarily deep call on the American conscience. It sure was when he made it. Back then we were a country where a person was “routinely” judged by the color of his or her skin.
So here we are living in a century that Martin himself never got to enter. For him, the 21st century was like one of those lunch counters at which he was not allowed to sit. When this great young man was killed at just 39 years of age, we were barely into the age of color television sets.
Today, we live in a world of instant and broad communication among the hundreds of millions of people on this earth, a time of vast economic inter-dependence and rivalry, at time when a person’s education is everything as far as their chances of landing on the right side of the digital divide, whether they’re capable of competing economically or not.
And what a divide it is! Just look at the movies out this year. One is about the invention of Facebook, the other about boxing. Talk about two worlds - the world of “have’s” in terms of education, and the world of the have-nots, whose best hope in life is to land a lucky punch at the other guy’s kidneys.
So are we there yet? Is the division in America today more about education and therefore class than it is ethnic, racial, to use the old word.
There was talk about the election of Barack Obama heralding a new, post-racial society here. Do we see it two years in? Do we think we’ve gotten past the time when a person, president or anybody, is not judged by, to use King’s phrase, the “color of their skin?”
I think, for the vast majority of Americans, somewhat stunningly, we have. It was there this week, this president and his wife in Tucson. We saw a president who is, to use our historic language, black, speaking deliberately and prayerfully about the loss of life. There was no mention of the ethnic aspects - because there was no reason to - If the killings in Tuscon were not about race, that old American subject simply did not get a mention - by anyone, right or left or anywhere in this very wide, very public conversation.
That is notable. It is important. For the simple reason that no one talked about it, it is at least the beginning of something historic.