Saturday, January 3, 2015

Moral High Ground

More thoughts on being on the wrong side of history...
As a 7th grader I had the good fortune to have a Social Studies teacher who valued talk in his classroom.  The most memorable things we did those many years ago were the in-class debates.  While there were and probably always will be students who are involved in only "winning" or crushing their opponent, occasionally there was a rich exchange of ideas.
This was in the big middle of the Civil Rights movement and there happened to be a recent California transplant from Mississippi in my class.  She singlehandedly took on the class in the "debate," which went rom an exchange of opposing ideas to a shouting match within the 45 minute class period.  I can still see her red and getting redder face to this day.  She had the gaul to argue in favor of segregation.  The majority of us just knew were occupied the moral high ground.  What we didn't know was how a childhood as a white Mississippian had shaped our classmate's views.  How could we?  The segregation that existed in our communities was much more institutionalized and certainly more visible.
So it went; that poor girl must have lost all her friends for her entire Middle School life. Just as we couldn't fathom how somebody could hold the views she was taught, she was mystified by how much she just knew we didn't or couldn't know.  Of course, she was on the wrong side of history as in a few short years the Civil Rights and Voting Rights Bills both cleared the Congress in the wake of the Kennedy assassination.

After that little class debate, we watched other more prominent people take their position firmly on the wrong side of history.  Most notable were former Alabama governor George Wallace and a slew of other Southern politicos who literally stood in the path of social justice.
And then there were those vitriolic, hateful venom spewing folks who stood in the way of Elizabeth Eckford walking into a public school under a hailstorm of expletives and epithets.  No child should ever have to experience that...anywhere.
In our moral high chairs, we had no idea how complex these issues could be or that we'd soon be separating ourselves again and again when it came to invading Southeast Asia or questioning the dominant values of teh land of the free and home of the brave.

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