It’s So Difficult Because It’s Never Been Done Before
I ran into L the other day. It has been almost fifteen years since she moved away. The last time we spoke her family was going through a huge crisis because her son, who was twenty-two at the time, had come-out to his parents. He received the almost total rejection he expected. His father seemed to shut down and go into mourning. L was upset and confused. She didn’t understand what happened. She was the only one in the neighborhood who was surprised. People easily ignore what they don’t want to see.
Now, fifteen years later, she was light-hearted and upbeat. Her son is now married and L is very fond of his husband. She finds him very smart and funny. She said she would be attracted to him herself if he wasn’t gay.
She hasn’t seen her husband in over five years. She sent him to live with his mother after he had too many temper tantrums about how the world has gone off the rails, and has become hedonistic and disgusting. She keeps looking for him in the videos of the people who stormed into the Capitol on January 6. She is relieved that she hasn’t seen him.
Despite the new president, the US remains very divided and there is still a great deal of anger and tension among the population. There are so many changes happening in our society, and they are all coming at us at the same time. Many of these changes are being resisted by a large segment of the population, people like L’s husband. Most of those who are upset are those who feel they have lost a lot because of these changes. Those loses are often economic, but many others feel that they are losing influence, stature, and that their values and lifestyle are being threatened, even if their income has remained stable.
It is easy to understand why those who are suffering economically are upset. These are people who have lost their jobs in the mines, or the oilfields. They are also the people who are being replaced by robots or AI. They are joined in the resistance by a lot of very rich people who, no matter if they made their money legally, illegally, or through inheritance, don’t want to pay taxes.
But a majority of people feel threatened because things are happening all around them that make them uncomfortable and confused. Just like L, and especially like her husband. Even L, who has now adjusted well to gay marriage told me she got terribly upset when see saw a fourteen year-old transsexual boy/girl on TV. But, she said she knows he will probably learn to accept that too.
There are other major social changes that have transformed America. Many people have come to this country to seek their fortune and make a better life for their children. But most of the people who have come in the last twenty years have not come from Europe. The have come from Asia, Africa, and Central and South America. They are Black, and Brown, and different shades of white. They speak with accents, and many don’t speak English very well.
In many ways they are no different from every other wave of immigrants who have come before them, except they are different colors, eat different foods, and may have a different religion. But that is different enough to make a lot of people uncomfortable.
In addition, there are large groups of people who have always been here who are now expressing their long-held anger and frustration at being pushed aside, and not being able to enjoy the full benefits of living in America. The most obvious of these groups are the African Americans who have always felt that they are not only not included, but that they have been systematically pushed away, and often punished for even expecting to be treated as an equal.
Women are another very large group of people who have been successfully pushing for more power, a larger voice, and equal place in determining how things are run and who makes the decisions. This has become a very unsettling change to men such as L’s husband. In contrast, L seems to be flourishing in a new career now that she doesn’t have to take care of him. She is helping people design and install databases. She got a certificate from Microsoft that shows everyone that she knows what she is doing. She is very proud of that.
After talking with L for a while I could see that she had a very different perspective than the one I have always had growing up in a middle-class, white, educated family. My parents expected me to do well in school, go to college, and become some sort of a professional with a stable income. No one ever got in the way of my doing that. The high school and then the college I went to were full of people just like me. Almost all of us turned out pretty well. It was a smooth ride if I just followed the signs. I never noticed that there were other signs for other people that said “keep out.”
L unequivocally calls herself an American. When I asked her about her background she said she grew up in Boston, and lived with her parents and grandparents. Her grandparents were born in Ireland, and they had difficulty finding a job and getting established in a city that was controlled by Brahmins. A generation later, when the local city counselor was Irish, her father was able to get a job driving a trolley. He was in the union, and her family could live well.
But she remembers clearly when the Black kids from the other side of the city were bused to her school. Her parents were not happy. They used a lot of unflattering language when they talked about the children who came in those buses. They took L out of school and put her into Catholic school, even though they had never gone to church before. L hated it.
This conversation with L forced me to see something I always knew but never clearly defined. That is that the American ideal that all people are equal, and that there is liberty and justice for all, has always been an ideal, but it has never been close to being realized. And that isn’t just true here, it has never really happened anywhere in the world, ever.
Black people. Brown people, immigrants, Jews, Catholics, poor people, and women of all stripes, with very few exceptions, have never been allowed to be the ones to pull the levers of power and to make the big decisions. Yes, in Africa, Black people now run most of those countries, but that is after more than centuries of colonial rule, and it only ended when colonialism became too expensive and dangerous.
L’s husband is freaking out because he is at the losing end of a social change than has never been accomplished anywhere before. That is why there are so many people who think shouldn’t happen. It was never the way things were, so they think things should never be that way.
Look at the people Biden has put into positions of power. They are young and old. They are of every color, every ethnic group, and many are a blend of several. Kamala Harris has a mother who came from India and a father who came from Jamaica. She is married to someone who is Jewish. This bothers some people. I never thought about it until so many people made such a big deal about her becoming VP. But it is a big deal. There has never been anyone like her in a position of power in America.
Every culture in the world has always been racist. It goes back to before Aristotle. He was very clear that he thought that slaves were born to be slaves and women were born to be, well women, and they didn’t count for much except taking care of the children and the needs of the men.
Many of the great American liberators, the men we call the Founding Fathers, the men — and they were all men — who wrote about inalienable rights, owned slaves, and lived well because of them. Some of them were aware of the contradiction, but not enough to do anything about it.
What is happening in America now is truly revolutionary. It is happening because “Grampa” Joe Biden, along with people like Stacey Abrams, Elizabeth Warren, Andrew Yang, Jim Clyborn, as well as countless organizations and individuals, including Black Lives Matter and Philonise Floyd have been working for decades to establish in reality what people have talked about for over a century, that ALL PEOPLE are created equal and are entitled, because they are human, for an equal chance of living a good life that includes liberty, the pursuit of happiness, and equal justice under the law. No one should have any fear driving or walking down any street in America. No one should feel exploited and disposable.
Almost all of the people in the world will say they agree with that, but a lot of them do nothing to make it happen, and almost all of the current Republicans are doing all they can to stop it from happening. Tucker Carlson, Robert Murdoch and many elected Republicans are opposing that because they see that doing so draws a crowd and raises money.
But, things are changing. The Justice Department will go after the Proud Boys. The Proud Boys are willing to tell the world who sent them to raid the Capitol. The cop who killed George Floyd is going to jail for a long time. Police are still shooting people, but now there is a lot of pressure to teach them a better, less lethal approach. L’s daughter has a Black boyfriend. Her father won’t speak to her either. He must be some kind of a guy. He must be suffering.
In America today, more people agree that these injustices need to stop, and they welcome the changes that are happening. The way the virus was handled has taught us that when we don’t care about each other and don’t work together a lot of people get sick and die. Joe Biden has shown us that when a government cares about its people and it tells the truth, good things can happen. If we work together then people get vaccinated and live. And if we care, we can help the rest of the world get vaccinated.
But it is also clear that the people who feel they have something to lose are not going to wake up tomorrow and have the insight that the world works better when we all help each other. They each have their own reasons to cling to the old ways, even if doing so will tear the country apart and make everyone suffer, including all of them. Change can be very frightening, especially when it affects things you thought were unchangeable.
However, it is clear that change is unstoppable. Artificial Intelligence may show us the methods we need to use to help everyone adjust to life in the 21st century. Or else, we may just have to wait for a lot of people to infect each other with COVID, or keep paying them $1400 until they decide that getting along is better than being angry all the time. Investigate, learn, cooperate, listen, negotiate, talk, discuss, compromise, those are the skills we all need to improve.
I don’t need the money. I’m already a big believer. I’m looking forward to hearing what you have to say. I learned a lot from talking to L.
Maybe I could learn from you, too.