Today marks the eve of Martin Luther King Jr. Day, a national holiday commemorating the fearless civil rights crusader who was assassinated in 1968.
Therefore, this seems a good time to assess just how far our black population has come since the era of Dr. King's activism in the late 1950s and 1960s.
The Jim Crow laws are gone. Black people can marry a spouse of any race. Legal barriers to voting are mostly gone. It's hard to believe some Southern states once forced blacks to take literacy tests to qualify for voting.
Black people eat in restaurants alongside whites and are no longer relegated to the balcony seats at theaters. Hotels and motels can no longer bar black people from renting rooms. Black students attend the same schools as whites, but persistently segregated housing patterns across the nation produce persistently segregated public schools in many communities.
Thankfully, Denton is not one of them.
We don't want to get into a statistical war of words about black life in America today. Suffice it to say our collective black population -- 10 percent to 12 percent of the nation -- lags behind in most social indicators compared to whites -- median income, home ownership, life expectancy, education attainment and incarceration rates.
These facts give the lie to what we often see on television. George Jefferson, the owner of dry cleaners, was moving on up in the 1970s in The Jeffersons. On The Cosby Show, Cliff Huxtable and his family were as mainstream and prosperous as any white family. Jefferson and Huxtable were exemplars of polite society's aspirations and hopes that we are all created equal. But they cloaked the grim reality.
We've been watching black athletes succeed on our television screens since the 1970s. Many have become millionaires playing football, baseball and basketball. They also cloak the overall statistics showing blacks lagging behind whites in important social categories. Television often has not reflected reality on the streets.
Inevitably, race relations in Denton or any other community come down to how we treat each other during daily encounters. The rubber meets the road, for example, when a black person and a white person have a disagreement.
Does the black person immediately jump to the conclusion that the white person is racist? Does the white person immediately think to himself, "That's just how they all are"?
Dr. King hit the nail on the head when he said, "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."
Isn't that what we all want from each other -- whites, blacks, Asians, Hispanics, Muslims and American Indians? To be seen as individuals with unique lives, personalities and aspirations regardless of appearance?
Don't we all deserve that kind of open-mindedness?