Geez. At some point in the not too far distant past, I was able to keep up with social change. Or rather, I thought I was keeping up but wasn’t, couldn’t. Change is constant, and most of it goes unnoticed until voila, one day, there it is.
I’ve even said something dumb like this to my husband, “You know, I feel sorry for people who haven’t been keeping up with changes, especially demographic, going on in America because I know they must blown away by it.”
“Like what?” he asked.
“Hmmm. Well, like social scientists have been predicting the increased population growth of nonwhite individuals for years. And how that it’s apparent, some are asking When did this happen?
I often think of a moment when some high school friends and I sat in a super cool Mexican restaurant and plunged into the idea of having a 50th high school reunion. As one might expect, such a topic took us all for a stroll down memory lane as we recalled the days of yore. Weren’t our teachers the best? And our parents? They were strict but there, meaning they didn’t shirk their responsibilities, do drugs, or have sexual identity issues…that we knew of. the economy was booming, and so was the birth rate. In fact, everyone at Salud that noon was part of a post-war boom. We were baby boomers.
Truth is, we were ignorant and innocent of how things were in many homes–unaware of the horrors going on even in the most reputable and upright of small towns. We didn’t even know about racism. Not really. Though raised in the South, our world was a white one, separated by unspoken but sure boundaries. I recall being at the doctor’s office waiting for the nurse to come in to give me a penicillin shot when I chanced to look down the hall to see movement in a room I’d never noticed. “I think I saw something in that room,” I told Mama.
‘You might have,” she said. “That’s another waiting room.”
“Huh? Why does Dr. Snipes need two waiting rooms?”
“One’s for colored people,” she replied, as if she’d said, “I like green beans,” something neutral and casual and of little importance in the grand scheme of things.
Stunned, I didn’t respond. Yet decades later as my friends and I looked with fondness at our past, I recalled that day of my young enlightenment.
“It was the best time to grow up,” someone said. Everyone agreed.
“At least for us,” I ventured. Everyone agreed with that too.
Although as youngsters, we didn’t know it, the seeds of social unrest had been growing for years, and our comfortable little worlds were about to change. We were seven when Emmet Till, a black fourteen-year-old visiting family in Mississippi, was taken from his uncle’s home before being beaten, shot, and thrown in the river with a 75-pound fan around his neck. The all-white jury acquitted the two men accused of his murder. Within recent years (two), a photo of three University of Mississippi brandishing guns in front of the bullet-riddled sign of Till’s memorial sign appeared on Instagram. They were smiling.
I can’t speak for my friends, but I’d be willing to bet none of them heard of Emmet Till in 1955. Embarrassingly, I learned of his torture and death only about fifteen years ago. I felt like I’d been punched in the gut. What is wrong with people? I thought. And now a year after the death of George Floyd, I’m wondering the same things.
I’m wondering if it’s better to be protected from ugliness, malice, and mistreatment or to be fully aware. Is knowledge power?