Saturday, July 9, 2016

1968 Redux

It feels the same.  The pall of 1968 has returned.  The air is thick with questions...with "work left to be done," with the simplicity of polarization, and most importantly with the anticipation of what is to come when we look over our shoulders.

1968 was a difficult year to endure.  Like 2016, it was an election year where the choices seemed clear, no matter the fact that few felt comfortable with any candidate.  It was a year of surprises, of shocking media imagery, of calls for law and order, and, of course, of guns...guns...guns.  It was a year of assassination and civil disobedience. The Constitution was asked repeatedly to bind a bleeding wound.  We investigated with blue ribbon commissions.  The massive tome of the Kerner Commission boiled it down to one simple statement...that we were becoming two separate and unequal societies.  Didn't we know this?  Weren't we trying to teach our complete history? Hadn't many of us raised our consciousness considerably in the last few years?
I often imagine the year 1968 with the inclusion of smart phones.  What if we had been able to record our daily experiences, to stream the political events that occurred within and without us?  Would that have made it easier to bridge the gap between the unfinished work and the current state of affairs?  Perhaps.  I'd have been able to video demonstrations against the illegal war being waged in Vietnam, the visible and audible signs of racism, and a few personal experiences like the time an elderly Black woman with a cane fell boarding a bus in Houston, Texas and the driver sat there, and sat there, and sat there.  The look I got after helping her would be mine to keep forever.

In 1968, people had difficulty communicating their differences.  Whites asked, like they do now, What can we do?  They were told, like they are today, to work in their own communities to educate, to change attitudes, to develop cultural sensitivity, and ironically, to learn their true history.
The term white privilege and the phrase Black Lives Matter did not come until 40 years down the unpaved street we've trod.  The terms "red lining" and gentrification were not that commonly used either. The complexities of race in America seldom penetrated Sunday morning talk shows and Presidential platforms.  By the time we elected our first Black president, we got lazy. We were momentarily buzzed. The term "post racial America" surfaced no matter how absurd. Some folks didn't want to be bothered with the warning issued by the Kerner report.  The two cultures expanded, grew together and apart, together and apart.  The media exploded...24/7 piled words and images in huge heaps full of sound bites and furious verbiage.  Signifying little or nothing.
I recall a time in my 7th grade history class when our teacher asked us to place the USA on a graph that measured the quality of life in our country.  This was in the midst of the Cold War and the blossoming Civil Rights movement.  Were we still on our way up...an ascending arrow...or had we plateaued..or were we, as a culture, on our way down?  By far, my classmates and I had never even considered we weren't still climbing on that chart.  The moment we considered anything other than a soaring potential, we realized we were unprepared to deal with the consequences, should that perception be valid.  1968 made me think of that mythical chart.  The same way I think about it today.  We can't keep reminding ourselves that we have work to do, while our culture is being destroyed.
I find that in the last few days people are anxious to talk about this pall that hangs over our heads.  That's a good sign.  But that's all that it is.

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