Regardless of our race, we've been affected by Martin Luther King, Jr. just by living in the world he helped create. Almost 45 years since his death, America remains far from perfect. Since 2008, we've tried to convince ourselves we're "post-racial" because our president's father was African and we write books like The Help so that we can pat ourselves on the back for not being so overtly racist anymore. (Whether you loved The Help or hated it, you should read this piece by my client, Roxane Gay.)
Race is still an issue in this country, and those who are not white and (at least) middle class are still struggling to be equal. I understand the comfort denial might bring, but anyone who's watched the news or had to witness the public shaming of Barack Obama over claims he was anything other than American, cannot deny that racism still can cloud our nation's judgment.
I believe we've come a long way, but we have even farther to go. Politicians and leaders are responsible for ensuring legal equality and the rest of us are responsible for practicing tolerance and passing it on to our children.
I also believe there are those of us who make up a third group of people - artists. We are responsible for perception. As long as we create characters who personify a stereotype, then we are guilty of perpetuating that image. The same way "female characters" should be viewed as simply "characters," non-white characters should be written with an identity outside of their race. Which is also to say, they should be written. Can you change the race of your main character without altering his or her personality and circumstances? Is your non-white character defying or challenging stereotypes while remaining necessary to the plot?
Like any good writer, I believe in showing rather than telling. Art shouldn't only reflect society; it should help improve it. As writers, we have the power to do that.
If you have a holiday from work or school today, I hope you can use it to write.