“Go do something black on Monday”

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The Martin Luther King, Jr. holiday always reminds me of the first college class I taught.  It met on Monday, Wednesdays and Fridays from 3:30 until 5:00.  When class ended on the Friday before the Martin Luther King, Jr. holiday, as my students filed out for the weekend, one of my African-American students said, “Bye, Mr. Trammell.  Go do something black on Monday.”

Since that day in 1999, I’ve wondered what it means to “do something black.”  I still don’t know the answer.  I also don’t know what it means to “do something white,” although I probably do something white every day without thinking about it.  Surely, we could come up with stereotypes of what it means to “do something black,” but we know those would be unfair and reductive.

In many ways, race is a defining characteristic of our identity and culture, but too many of us also treat race as the defining characteristic of the humanity of “other” people.  So today I’d like to share my student’s call with you: go do something black today.  And white.  And Asian and Hispanic.  If you’re like me and you don’t know what that means, here’s a tip: try doing something “human” instead, and you’ll probably nail it.

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