Sunday, January 18, 2009

Reflections on MLK day and the Inauguration

It seems that many people have focused on the historic nature of the next 2 days. I appreciate the importance of this, but think fatherhood has made it much easier for me to understand. I was not alive during the 1960s, but growing up in New Orleans in the 1970s and 80s gave me a good understanding of racism from the perspective of a young white boy/man.
I got a sense of the inequality that ran through the South due to my upbringing even if the force of it was not clearly aimed at me. I came to understand that certain people were denied equality at least in a subtle way based on their ethnicity. Has that changed much in 40 years? Is there still a problem with racism in our society?
I can very assuredly say that the generation I am part of still feels racism. I'm also of the belief that racism for people my age is not nearly as obvious or state sponsored as it was for my parents generation. I grew up as a teenager, when David Duke was at the height of his power. While I was growing up, there was still a significant social stigma to inter-racial friendships, not to mention dating. There was still at least a small color barrier to be overcome.
This however, was an improvement over my parents' generation. During their youth, segregation was the law of the land, and blacks had very few practical rights. Remember that as recently as 40 years ago there were still lynchings in the South, and White sympathizers got beaten or killed if they fought for Civil Rights.
And I would say that my daughter, Cassie's, generation is even more tolerant. I do not know when society imprints intolerance on children, but her best friend at school is African-American, and that seems not to be a problem for anyone, or even an anomaly. I hope that this ignorance of color remains the norm for her generation.
For a bit of historic context, in the early days of colonial America, the wealthy elite was having trouble controlling the poor white farmers. These farmers were agitating for more rights and privileges. Very often they would join forces with runaway black slaves and revolt against the colonial government. In an attempt to keep these rebellions from spreading, the colonial government gave the poor whites a few privileges based on their color that, blacks freedmen or otherwise did not have. In this way, racism was created as a governing control in the early days of British colonial America.
While there is still racism in this country, most of the inequities in America appear to be reverting to those of the early 1600's based more on class than race. I think discrimination is a terrible thing, but it appears this country is making some progress. I've got hope that we can continue in the right direction.

1 Comments:

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