It seems that almost every time something happens that insults, hurts or offends people of color or women, many of us react by saying “what is this? are we back in the 1950’s? (or 60’s or 70’s)?” Honestly, I used to think this whenever I heard a lawmaker say something offensive about rape or a judge fail to find a man or woman guilty of murder, until I realized a very simple answer. Yes. We are still in the 1950’s. Or maybe a slightly better answer is that our society has not progressed nearly as much as some of like to believe.
A large part of this lack of sustaining progress towards equality and justice for everyone is (as I wrote about in my previous post) that my generation dropped the civil rights movement ball. We were supposed to continue fighting for cultural change and we have not. (Things are changing though!) However, I would also like to place a little bit of blame on our schools, parents and mentors for not properly educating us about how and why things were better for us. My mother used to tell me all the time about how her school only let the girls play half-court basketball because the school thought that the girls couldn’t physically handle the activity. And of course, our grandmothers (primarily Dorothy Ainsworth of Smith College) had to fight to be allowed to play half-court basketball. Or how the school sent my mother home for wearing a skort instead of a skirt. Or how they used to make them all kneel down to ensure that the hem touched the floor. But all of these stories of micro-agressions against women came from her. I never learned about the pervasive policies of discrimination towards women in a classroom. I never learned about the 80+ year struggle it took women to gain the right to vote. We learned that Congress granted women the right to vote, but we never learned about the STRUGGLE that it took women to get there. We barely learned about the Black Civil Rights Movement, and what we did learn made it seem fairly tame (it was not.)
So my generation grew up believing that things just changed for the better like magic, as though people suddenly decided that policies of racial and gender discrimination are unfair. We, for the most part, did not learn that every single step towards equality and equity for non-cisgendered White men required a battle. As if my case, if we learned about the struggle it was from our parents or community, not in a classroom. We need to learn about these things in a classroom because we need to be taught about the systemic oppression of communities by unjust laws and policies. My mother was not the only girl playing half-court basketball growing up. Schools treated all girls this way because it was a social belief about women and sports. It was a system, not an experience particular to her.
So, are we back in the 1950’s? Not quite but pretty damn close. And we must learn and remember that every single right that we enjoy today came out of struggle. If we forget or never learn it or learn a watered-down pansy version of it, then we will watch these rights slip away. Those in power did not want to share these rights in the first place, and they will take them back when given the chance. We need to move forward, but we can only truly move forward by looking backward.