Memories of an Era I thought Gone By

Memories of an Era I thought Gone By[1]

It should have been a hopeful sign of progress that today, as I lay reading an old science fiction novel, one of Asimov’s robot series, I realized with dismay that I’d been raised in a society in which human beings, because of their ancestry, were forced to use separate hygienic facilities, water fountains, restaurants, transport, etc., and that it had been unthinkable for most people to accept a change in that relationship.  The context in the novel was the human attitude towards robots and for a second, I smiled to myself, almost smugly, remembering that I’d lived through the marvelous sixties, a decade when all of that had begun to change as conscience finally seemed to be caching up to and challenging the most negative aspects of tradition, a concept I’d been raised to deeply respect.

But then, saddened, I realize that we’re still in transition, that the change in social mores is much less than complete, that for too many of us in too many ways the thought of real equality is distasteful and that such attitude infects the former victims as well as their victimizers.  That seems to have been true throughout our history.  We seem from before our birth as a nation to have suffered from the twin maladies of racism and xenophobia and we now seem to be stuck in a resistance point in their amelioration.  We are still a chain of victims turned victimizers.

I remember the old justifications for racism, the good old fundamental right of free association, hard to argue with, at least until Charley Foster’s quiet and noble dignity at the Citadel started a process that culminated some years later when I looked into the eyes of a young black child on a road in the Dominican Republic and realized what that child would face and the opportunities he would never have, a day when something fundamental finally changed inside of me.  I remember Martin Luther King, Jr., and how much he was hated and how little understood he’d been, even given the misperceptions occasioned by the myriad calumnies to which the government had constantly exposed him.  And then, I remember, on the night of his death, being amazed by his “I have a Dream” speech, one that can still bring tears to my eyes for the beautiful values it embraces.

I remember the joy I shared many, many, too many years later, with millions of others all over the world when Barrack Obama was elected president of the United States, a joy not based on his politics but on the belief that a deep dark sin on the national psyche had been shed, but how quickly that joy was dashed by the unending stream of racist emails that trickled my way and continue to do so, every day, some from people who for very different reasons I love, admire and consider my brothers.

And I ask myself where we are and more importantly, where we’re going, and try to reason why.

[1] © Guillermo Calvo Mahé; Manizales, 2012; all rights reserved