As we celebrate another Black History Month, the time has come for those of us born before 1960 to give those of us, both white and black, born after 1960 a sense of perspective, and to let them know that things have indeed changed over the past almost 50 years.
Let’s face it, not only do we no longer have to sit at the back of the bus, but sometimes we run the bus company. We have been mayors, governors, ambassadors, Secretaries of State, and now President of the United States.
Most white people are no longer trying to hold us back, but are trying to move us forward, and this is because, unlike previous generations, they have found it to be in their best interests to do so.
And therein lies the key to the difference between now and then: generations have changed.
Yes, generations have changed. For the most part the old generation of whites who wanted to keep us down and “in our place,” those who were resistant to change, have died off. In their place are their children and grandchildren, people who had a vision of something different, but something that they couldn’t quite pull off while the older generation was still alive and had power.
As I look around my school and Onondaga County in general, I am pleased to see so many interracial couples that I don’t even bother counting them anymore. And as I look at them, I think about the fact that many of these are the children of people whose parents forbade them to bring “one of them” home. These are children of people who may have felt powerless to go against their parents’ wishes at the time, but made a vow to themselves never to say that to their own children.
Yes, the children and grandchildren of the old generation are different. The first wants their children to see skin color as being no different than hair color, and their success is measured in the fact that the second wonders what the big deal was ever about.
So if things really are so much better now, why does it appear that so many white people, and especially of the newer generation, are against Affirmative Action programs? Because we did a good job of salesmanship. We sold them on the ideal that a person should be judged based on the content of their character, on their skills, and on their ability to do the job. To them, programs that seem to give a lesser-qualified person an advantage in getting into a college or getting a certain job look like a betrayal of that ideal that we fought for and sold them on. I’ll grant that this view is perhaps a bit naïve and lacking in historical perspective, but it is not mean-spirited. It comes from them listening to us.
Others will ask about recurring flare-ups of racist incidents, the most recent of which comes to my mind is that of the Jena Six. My response is simple: Idiots and jerks you will always have with you, but they will no longer represent the mainstream. There is no longer a tacit agreement to just let things like this go. The mainstream, which is made up of the newer generations, wants things to be better, and is ashamed of the actions of their ancestors.
Are things perfect? Of course not. Is there still progress to be made? Definitely. But based on what I’ve seen over the course of the past 52 years, what remains to be done is simply fine-tuning around the edges.