Lily and Raven's World
An Essay on the Future of Race in America
I spend a lot of time, now, on the brink of despair over the decline of our nation and our civilization. Understanding the situation feels like being a character in a Stephen King novel who sees the monster approaching and is constrained from doing anything but shouting of its presence. Few hear; fewer care; almost none are warned.
I was lucky enough today to go to a Third-grade assembly. It reminded me of the world when I was nine--the world of 1961. Within the shine of the eyes of three dozen children, I saw a truth that had previously escaped me and a future that has, for once, given me hope. To understand the import, though, we need to go back to the 1950s.
Unlike the majority of my readers, I was born when American had apartheid. It was illegal for a black person to be present in my home town after dark. This was not in some dark, Southron county beside whose red-clay roads crosses burned by night. This was in the heartland of America--in the North, a scant seventy miles from downtown Chicago.
The law was moot. There were no black people, nor brown, nor red, nor yellow in my county. There were only white--the cultural divide we had was determined by which branch of Christianity--Catholic or Protestant--and by which century their ancestors came to America. I witnessed no racial hatred. When a car driven by a black family stopped at Dick Kreiser's Standard station, their money was as good as anyone else's. Folks talked about it--like they would a sudden thunderstorm--and with as much heat. I attribute their attitude to the fact that most of the adult men had served in an Army where, despite segregation, black soldiers were present often enough to demonstrate a lack of threat.
There simply was not enough familiarity with race for it to generate tension in my small part of the North.
When, in the early Sixties, the news of the Civil Rights movement hit the Chicago Tribune, the adults around me shook their head in disbelief. My father, of course, blamed the situation in Dixie on their elected officials--just one more demonstration of the evils of voting Democratic. When the Southern Democrats like Robert Byrd, Strom Thurmond, and Jesse Helms spent hours filibustering on the television (taking turns speaking, for days at a time) it didn't make a whole lot of sense to me. Didn't they understand that each person needed to be considered as an individual under the law? (Twelve year olds can be really dense sometimes when they believe what adults tell them.)
I cheered when the Voting Rights Act passed. The underdogs won--just as they did in the Westerns that my father read. It was just the beginning, though. There was a lot of the decade left, with a war that would affect small-town life and its mirror in the inner cities--after all, it's the poor that fight America's wars. The Great Society was seen by the folks at home as a bribe to keep criminals in the cities from burning them down. Again, race was not considered, it was the actions that individuals took that elicited disgust.
About the time I was in college, someone, somewhere, came up with the idea that the white citizens of the United States were racist--in reality, could not KEEP themselves from being racist, just from being members of a group that were in power. For a while, I bought into it--it was, after all, being promulgated by the same radicals that were helping end the slavery of the draft and the oppression of the Nixon administration (people, in short, who were my friends and colleagues). Deep inside, the farm boy rebelled at the idea--such hatred was as far beyond my experience as the stars that shone over the rock festivals we attended.
Again and again, there was the racism refrain, which ran into a wall of dissonance with reality. For more than ten years, I struggled with the concept. Finally, I thought I had figured it out--the problem was not with the white American people. The problem was that a few, evil, white individuals who had gained power passed laws to give themselves benefits.
I did the historical research--yep, all of the rights that black people "regained" during the 1960s (and that they had been endowed with at birth as human beings) had already been legally granted to them during the 1860s and 70s, especially in the occupied South. It had been governments, not individuals, who had found ways around those inherent rights. Once again, it was shown that God gives rights and mankind takes them away.
Man, I thought, it's sure as hell a good thing that we've learned from our mistakes. We'll never do that again!
Ha--I should have known better. Beginning in the late 1970s and stretching clear to the end of the century, another group of evil individuals who had gained political influence passed laws to give new benefits--to minorities this time--citing the "inherent" racism of white American citizens. We went, once again, from a situation where individuals were telling other individuals what they can and cannot do to one in which the government was telling individuals what they could and could not.
Whether for revenge or simply the desire to see people like themselves succeed, the deck was stacked. Complaining about the unfairness of the laws was punished, especially within academia or the governmental workforce, with a severity that belied the freedom of speech and association that supposedly existed in America.
Over the last generation, though, in America, something new and amazing has happened. In spite of the oppression of these new laws, individuals of both races are rising above the artificial dislike and mistrust fostered by previous governments. For the first time in a half-century, people are realizing that we are, indeed, fractal. Race is not only unimportant; the former races are blending so fast that in a generation or two, they will not be distinguishable.
The school program today spotlighted the change in unmistakable ways.
Lily, my foster daughter, and her best friend Raven lie at one end of a spectrum. They're beautiful, blonde, blue-eyed little girls born into this century--born in the first year of it, as a matter of fact. They're about as white as one can get. They're the minority, though. Incrementally changing, the skin of the children shades through ivory and beige, though mocha and brown with a side stop at cherry-wood, clear to the night sky of Colorado.
The program started with America the Beautiful and then moved to classical pieces, some in English (including a Spiritual from the days of slavery), one in French, and finished with a solo by a girl in Chinese (with costumes from home and two tiny four- and five- year olds who had come over from the Chinese school to dance with their sister).
Rather than being a way to receive time off in Purgatory, as previous school programs have been for me, the presentation was beautiful enough to bring tears to my eyes and keep them there for a half-hour.
It's over. The election of a President with a black father and a white mother was a symptom of the change that has happened in America, not a cause of that change. Despite the continuing efforts of some in positions of power (whether it be in elected office or in media at either end of the spectrum) to keep the myth alive that we are a country made up of racist individuals, the truth shines through. If we were, indeed, racists, we could never have produced a generation of children who looked like those before me.
The children of the 21st Century will be different from us--far different than most realize right now. They will accept their spectrum of color and racial features as natural and proper. They are the ones who will save us from the oppression of governments, in much the same way as their great-grandparents did in the Second World War. By the time they witness their virtual assembly of school children in 2060, it will be impossible to tell what race those future children are, except that they will, for just a short moment more in time, still be human.