Friday, December 24, 2010

Perceptions of Equality

My friend posted on his Facebook page applauding the vast improvements in racism and sexism in America compared to the way things used to be. (This on the heels of repealing "Don't Ask, Don't Tell".) All of us Caucasians "liked" his comments but the African-Americans among us were like - "nope, you're wrong, racism is as virulent as ever." I think the whites were shocked, even stunned, by this attitude.

The debate kind of petered out, like people were afraid it would lead to something ugly if they pursued it.

But I still can't help wondering what that determination of continuing rampant racism was based on.

I'm almost 65 years old and I remember racism and sexism. I remember when blacks rode in the back of the bus and women couldn't sit at the bar and it was the rare gay who was brave enough to come "out". I remember being told flat-out that I wouldn't get a promotion to foreman because "women couldn't be foremen". I remember our personnel manager telling me she didn't even schedule an interview with an applicant because she "sounded black". I remember when all the people in all the commercials were white.

I remember when all Miss America contestants were Caucasian; when the merest hint of being homosexual was enough to be denied a security clearance; when landlords advertised openly "whites only". I remember a time when Congress was a sea of pale, male faces. I remember when any Supreme Court justice or presidential cabinet member who was African-American or God knows, female, truly was a "token", when the very idea of a black or woman president was totally preposterous.

I lived the Civil Rights Movement and the Women's Movement.

To me, old as I am, anyone who says that great strides haven't been made is just clinging to old resentments. Yes, all that happened to Grandpa and Grandma but now Uncle William is a Senator and Aunt Josephine is on the Supreme Court. We think nothing of black Head of the Joint Chiefs and female Secretaries of State. We take it for granted that a black woman can be declared the most beautiful female in the land, that a black man can be named Athlete of the Year (or Decade, for that matter).

Entertainment and sports probably led the way. I grew up in a small, mostly white community. The first black people I "knew" were Ray Charles and Otis Redding and Wilson Pickett and Aretha Franklin and Jimi Hendrix and it was love at first song. Musical genius is color-blind.

Likewise, athletic excellence. Racist you may be, but there is no denying the superiority of a Muhammad Ali or a Michael Jordan or a Tiger Woods.

Of course, progress isn't always as fast as the victims of racism, sexism or homophobia would like it to be. People got hurt and even killed along the way. Pioneers suffered for their willingness to trail-blaze. Forced acceptance is difficult to enforce. You can make it happen, as President Harry Truman forced the military to accept blacks, but it takes time to make forced acceptance truly acceptable.

One of the African-Americans in our FB discussion said, "well, yes, we don't see racism much as middle-class college graduates but it still exists below us." That seems like something of a facile answer to me. I work with the low income, black and white alike. It is a fact of life that the poor always gets screwed, whatever their race, sex or orientation.

Another brought up immigration as an example of on-going racism but I don't really think immigration is necessarily a problem because the illegals flooding our borders are Hispanic. I believe we'd be protesting if millions of poor whoevers were swarming into our country, putting pressure on jobs, schools and medical care. If they were all from the country of Burgoo, we'd be yelling to put a stop to all the Burgooians coming in illegally.

Things have improved, immensely, in my book. Anyone who says it hasn't is focused more on bitterness than betterment.

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