I was raised in one of the whitest, most racist places in the United States. It was a good place to grow up, if you were white and Protestant. Not so much if you were black or brown. The school system was OK – I got a basic education but my community taught me a lot of bigoted small minded stuff that wasn’t true about people who were different.
I really never met or had any significant dealings with anyone who was not essentially just like me until I joined the Air Force in 1961. I found myself in a cultural and racial mosh pit. I suffered from culture shock. I had difficulty reconciling my beliefs with the world in which I found myself. The Air Force had been desegregated, so not everyone was like me. I began to realize that some of what I had been taught about other people was not true.
I have always been inquisitive and I have always been interested in learning new things. I started reading about anthropology and archeology. Among other things, I read about the origins of man, including books about Louis Leakey’s discovery of humanoid fossils in Africa. What he was discovering obviously did not exactly jive with the Old Testament. What he and others had to say about the origins of man clashed with what a lot of folks, where I grew up, believed. It was confusing. What was the connection between homo sapiens and the other hominids? Where did the human race come from? Were we the descendants of the hominids that lived in Africa millions of years ago?
As the years past, I learned more about the origin of man. Eventually, I read articles about DNA research. It became clearer and clearer that modern humans, all humans, are the descendants of one female who lived in Africa 200,000 years ago. In fact, the human race almost went extinct as a result of a huge volcanic explosion in what is now Indonesia about 70,000 years ago. The Mount Toba eruption was really big. It was the largest such eruption in more than 2.5 million years. It threw so much debris into the atmosphere that the earth was plunged into a global winter that lasted years and caused a catastrophic die off of all living things including humans. As a result, the human population of the earth was reduced to possibly as few as 1,000 individuals who lived in east Africa, in what is now Kenya. Because of the Mount Toba supervolcanic explosion, all of us are the descendants of a small number of humans who came out of a genetic bottle neck in Africa 70 millenia ago.
I am almost 70 years old and I now believe that we are all Africans and we are all cousins. Those of us who are the descendants of the humans who left Africa long ago may seem different as a result of evolutionary changes, but we are still 99.9% genetically the same. We are certainly culturally, religiously and linguistically very diverse, but all of us still want essentially the same things. We want to have enough to eat. We want to live peacefully and conformably. We want to live purposeful lives. We want to live with people who love and support us when we are in need. This is easy to say, but hard to accomplish. We would come closer to achieving our universally common goals if we just treated all of our cousins with dignity and respect.
Fifty years ago, Dr. King spoke in Washington about his dream. Unfortunately, despite the passage of half a century, the dream has not been fulfilled because too many of us still do not get it. Too many of us are still small minded bigoted racist ignoramuses. We have made progress but too many of us view President Obama as a member of an inferior subspecies rather than our brilliant, honorable and accomplished cousin. It is also unfortunate that more than another half century will probably pass before we judge one another by our characters rather than the color of our skins.
While I am still a descendant of the northeast European branch of the human race, I am, however, not so much the bigoted ignoramus that I was 50 years ago when I heard Dr. King give his speech. If I could change, maybe there is reason to believe that someday his dream will come true.