As we celebrate both Martin Luther King Day and President Barack Obama's Second Inaugural, my mind keeps returning to two images from election night last November. One was the amazing display of diversity at Obama's victory party in Chicago. The other was the sea of white faces at the gathering of Romney supporters in Boston. The contrast between the two struck me so powerfully, that it is still difficult to put my thoughts into words. Our future and our past, all colliding so visibly to highlight a topic we so desperately wish would just go away and leave us alone: race.
We want to believe that we live in a post-racial America. The election night images say otherwise, as does the personal experience of too many of our fellow citizens. There's only so much we can dismiss as misperception. We need to face the reality that "our kumbaya era" was a fantasy of denial. Los Angeles Times columnist Sandy Banks, who has written about racist rhetoric in politics and racist behavior in Orange County in the last few months, said it best: "There's hope. But real progress will only come when we are willing to deal honestly with uncomfortable, homegrown truths."
And the simplest of these truths is that we only love some of our neighbors. No, our watchword is tolerance. It sounds enlightened. But it has nothing to do with love. You can tolerate people you find annoying, people you despise, people you're so indifferent to that you would never in a million years bother to learn their names. Yes, it sounds enlightened. But it's just a fancy word for politeness. We deserve better.
"We come from a common source. We are children of the same parent. Like it or not, we are family."
And you don't tolerate family, you love them, all of them.