My generation has been fairly fortunate. We haven’t had nearly the same turmoil that accompanied my parents’ coming of age. Racism still existed (and exists), but as the Rodney King beating showed – it was far from tolerated in the court of public opinion. Even OJ Simpson could be seen as a step forward: even a black celebrity could get away with murder.
The women of my generation also had benefited much from our parents’ struggles. No longer is it assumed that a woman will go off to college only to meet a suitable husband, and, though the glass ceiling still lingers, it is being further broken with each passing day.
But today, the day after our nation elected its first black president, I find myself a bit overwhelmed by sluggish progress our nation has made:
1776: Thomas Jefferson, a slave owner, declares the self-evident right “that all men are created equal.”
1863: Abraham Lincoln declares “all persons held as slaves within any state… are forever free.”
1920: Women are given the right to vote with the ratification of the 19th amendment
1954: Thurgood Marshall successfully argues before the Supreme Court that “equal but separate” is inherently unequal
1955-1965: Rosa Parks, Mississippi Freedom Summer, Selma and the Voting Rights Act
I guess it should be no surprise that it took 45 years for a child of the Civil Rights movement to reach our nation’s highest office. So I can understand that this momentous occasion is cause for joy around the country. But at the same time, I find myself incredibly disappointed in my peers.
California’s Proposition 8 passed, amending the state constitution for the sole purpose of denying two loving individuals the rights afforded by legal marriage. It passed, in large part due to the very same generation that fought so hard for freedom and equality. It passed, thanks to the strong Christian faith of the Hispanic and Black communities who turned out in record numbers this year to help usher in so-called change. And it passed by the slimmest of margins.
Yet there is hope, for not only was the margin small, but those of my generation overwhelmingly voted against the ban. For it is one of the last fronts on the fight for Civil Rights, and one that my generation could not help notice as unfair – and just plain wrong.
The earliest memory I have of death, was at a young age when a friend of the family passed from AIDS. This heterosexual mother had received a transfusion tainted by the “gay plague” and her death was purely the blame of the ignorance and indifference felt at the time. AIDS and HIV research would not get the attention it deserved in this climate of hate and fear, and it took decades before people began to realize that this disease was not some targeted divine retribution from an otherwise merciful God.
The books and movies of my generation have further pointed out the glaring inequality in our society. Maybe one day Philadelphia will be seen to be as important in that front as To Kill a Mockingbird was 40 years ago. The brutal 1998 slaying of Matthew Shepard opened the nation’s eyes to the hate our society has encouraged, just as as the 1999 slaying of Winfield Scott Mowder and Gary Matson opened the eyes of those in Shasta County.
So for me today is 1950 with “separate but equal” the law. But change is on the horizon. Its just a matter of time…