As human beings, we tend to view the world through the narrow window of our own experience. It’s easy to believe that the world we see, and the one we have seen in our own lifetime, is all there is. Most people are not students of history and haven’t opened a history book since high school. As each year passes, we tend to remember only the most major of historical events.
So, it’s easy to look at the events of today and think things have never been worse. We have terrorism, police being ambushed, black men being killed on the streets, mass shootings, and an incredibly ugly political environment.
But it’s important to step back and take a longer view of things.
One need not go all the way back to slavery or the Civil War to find times far more turbulent than the one in which we live today.
As someone who grew up in the ’60s, one of my earliest memories is the assassination of President Kennedy. In 1968, Martin Luther King, Jr., and Robert F. Kennedy were assassinated just two months apart. I remember seeing the riots on TV, people being shot with water cannons. I remember the Vietnam War and the protests.
People moving out, people moving in
Why, because of the color of their skin
Segregation, determination, demonstration, integration
Aggravation, humiliation, obligation to our nation
If you’re under 50, you may not realize that the famous incident of four young black men sitting down at a whites-only lunch counter occurred in 1960. The injustice of Jim Crow laws continued till the mid-’60s, relegating blacks to second-class or even sub-human status. In 1963, Governor George C. Wallace stood on the steps of an auditorium at the University of Alabama and, in an effort to try to keep his inaugural promise of “segregation now, segregation tomorrow, segregation forever,” tried to block the entry of two black students. The decade saw “white flight,” families fleeing the cities in favor of the suburbs because of the influx of minorities, eventually leading to forced busing to achieve desegregation of schools.
As a child, I think I was most affected by the war. Young men barely out of high school were drafted and sent to Vietnam. As many as 40,000 men were drafted each month. It’s hard to process the fact that nearly 60,000 American soldiers were killed. Sixty thousand. Think about that.
War protests sometimes turned violent and involved brutal confrontations with police and soldiers. In 1970, the National Guard opened fire on students at Kent State, killing four of them.
In a day and age when it is largely accepted that women can perform any job they want to do, consider that a young Hillary Clinton, in the early 1960s, wrote to NASA expressing her desire to be an astronaut, only to be told they did not accept women into the space program.
Fear in the air, tension everywhere*
So, are things a mess right now? In some respects, to be sure. But let’s not pretend they haven’t always been somewhat of a mess. And compared to 50 years ago, we’ve been on a fairly smooth path. It’s been over 35 years since an assassination attempt on a major U.S. politician. And while the loss of life and number of traumatic injuries as a result of our invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq is horrifying, imagine those numbers being 10 times what they are, and imagine 40,000 young men per month being drafted to go fight in those wars. As a woman, imagine what it would be like to be told you could not pursue your chosen career for no reason other than the fact of being a woman.
If America doesn’t feel great to you, take some time to put things in perspective.
*Ball of Confusion, The Temptations, 1971