“I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.” – Martin Luther King Jr.
Today is Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, a federal holiday observed on the third Monday in January each year that celebrates and remembers the birthday of America’s most influential nonviolent civil rights activists. Born on January 15th, 1929, Martin Luther King, Jr. would become a figure head of the Civil Rights Movement and noted as one of the greatest American orators to ever live after delivering his famous “I Have a Dream” speech in Washington D.C. In 1964, he received the Nobel Peace Prize for combating racial inequality through nonviolence.
Each year we ask ourselves if his dream has been realized, and each year we come to the conclusion that it hasn’t been. People are still judged by the color of their skin instead of the content of their character, and, as many tattoo enthusiasts know, the color itself doesn’t have to be anything in particular.
Martin Luther King, Jr.’s emphasis on content of character struck a chord among the listeners of his speech in 1963 and continues to do so today. Despite most of us universally agreeing with King’s main idea, in practice it’s much more difficult to judge everyone by the content of their character than it seems.
Unconscious pre-judgements and jumps to conclusions are natural instincts all animals have. They serve as tools of self-preservation, helping you avoid potentially dangerous situations through bad feelings. However, humanity doesn’t live in an animalistic, instinctually-based world. Self-awareness comes with a deeper understanding of the world around us, one that tells us our natural instincts aren’t right all the time.
People with visible tattoos know what it’s like to be judged based on looks alone, but that doesn’t mean we should meet the rest of the world in kind. Be the change you want to see in this world. Give people the benefit of the doubt despite their appearances. That homeless man on the corner could be an intellectual powerhouse who’s just down on his luck – you don’t know what he’s been through until you get to know the content of his character.
As clichéd as it may sound, it all comes down to treating people how you want to be treated and remembering to live by that philosophy 365 days a year – not just on Martin Luther King, Jr. Day.