What a difference a generation makes

I have a dear friend that is in her seventies. She is like a mother to me. My closest confidant and my shoulder to cry on when times are hard. I love her. I have always known that she and I do not see eye to eye on many subjects and, in fact, it is one of the things that makes our friendship fun and vital.

The other day as we were talking about rising gas prices, global warming and rapidly rising populations it was driven home for me just how different we were in our thinking. Comments she made started me thinking about the generational differences that still exist and how they often contribute to problems like social policy change, eradication of race issues and progress in political stability and the tendency towards religious fervor that can show up in times of crisis.

My friend and I were talking and I made the comment about the human race not being able to self moderate when it came to population. That animals will stop breeding if the herd becomes to large for the environment in which it lives to sustain it, but humans will not follow this same pattern. She responded by saying, "But if we don't keep having babies the colored people will start to outnumber us and then where will we be?" I sat and looked at her for a moment, not sure how to respond. She hadn't said it with any malice in her voice, it was very matter of fact and yet it had struck me as a very racist thing to say. I know this woman and she isn't mean spirited and would never think to judge a person based on color if they needed help or assistance of any kind. And yet, here was something so ugly coming from her. How did I reconcile this? It took me back, it shocked me. I did the only thing I could think of, I changed the subject.

Others of my generation would most likely condemn this person out of hand. Angry denouncement of "Racist" and "Bigot" would be hurled. I have to admit, one of the first thoughts through my mind was, "I didn't know she was so racist." And then I stopped and thought about it. I gave thought to where the comment might have come from and if she even understood, really understood how it would have been perceived by someone else. Would she have heard the racism in the comment, or would it have been just a normal thing to say for her?

My friend lived through the Great Depression, World War II and the social upheaval of the Civil Rights movement and the Vietnam Era. She also witnessed the turmoil surrounding the Women's Rights movement and the entrance onto the social forefront of the Gay and Lesbian Rights activists. Environmental activists, human rights activists, criminal rights activists all of these groups came into being during her lifetime. The concept of "childhood" as we know it was developed and placed into society during her lifetime. When you stop going to school, when you start working to support a family, when you get married....all of these ideas have changed. Who you associate with, what's appropriate behavior in society, what's appropriate to talk about and even how you say it...all of these ideas have changed as well.

My generation takes these things for granted. We expect that everyone will accept and understand these ideas. That they are part of the societal norm is a given for us. We have forgotten that there is an entire generation that did not grow up with these ideals. They had them thrust upon them. Are still having them thrust upon them.

Imagine being seventy-five years old and having a twenty-five year old woman, covered in tattoos with purple hair, her breast barely covered walk up to you and start speaking to you about the right to have an abortion. She is mixing profanity in with her speech and waving a crudely painted sign in your face. How would you react? Or imagine turning on your television and being bombarded with images of a world that looks nothing like the one you were familiar with...hearing ideas that do not match the morals you were taught all your life. How easy would it be for you to change an entire moral code?

How do we combat that? Fighting against groups like KKK is hard enough. They perpetuate hatred based on ethnicity out of sheer fear and ignorance, born of a time when it was a right and nurtured for centuries. This kind of racism is much quieter and hides in people that really mean no harm. My friend's children grew up hearing such quiet statements and probably make them themselves, carrying the cycle forward. These are not monstrous people. These are men and women who give to charity, help their neighbors in times of crisis, bake cookies for the school bake sale and make friends with people of all colors and ethnic groups...all the while, lurking just under the surface....How do you diffuse that? What is the way to break a cycle that you can't see?


Paula said...

I don't know, but you ask important questions here. My mom says things that make me go eek, but she is also a good person and would help anyone. Actually she's more willing to help than I am, but also more offensive at the same time. Weird, huh?

viciousrumours said...

I had always thought of racism as a blatant thing. Something I could spot and be angry about. Something I could point at and tell my children to avoid. Now I'm seeing that it is far more imbedded in our society than I thought.

super des said...

This raises some excellent points - far too many to be addressed here. We can try educating the older generation, but I don't think it'll do any good because they don't need to be educated. But you're right - serious social change can't come about for precisely this reason.

whiskeymarie said...

I don't know if there is an answer to this. My grandma on my Dad's side often made racist statements without thinking about it. She grew up dirt poor with little education and got married very young. She worked, had 5 kids and lived a pretty hard and uneventful life.
My German Grandpa on my Mom's side lived a full life before he got married. He fought in WW2 for the U.S, unceremoniously got thrown in an internment camp for 6 months when his service was done, lived all over the U.S, worked hard, married and then had 4 kids. He was accepting of ALL people. Color, age, whatever. He just liked people.
Two people, same generation, yet very different.

I think a lot of it depends how much they have interacted with the world in general. My experience has been that people who haven't traveled, haven't just gone out & experienced life have been too sheltered and therefore scared of anything that's "different".

But really, who knows?

viciousrumours said...

Des: Or is that what social change is all about? Making the changes in a way that everyone can accept them? Finding a way to institute change so that all generations accept them and are comfortable with them and breaking the cycles.

Once we identify the problems, we can work to change them. Who knows how many people have said tiny little things without believing them harmful and yet they are perpetuating a centuries old cycle of hatred.

It's something I had never really given thought to until now. A new window on how I view social change.

Suzanne said...

There is nothing like spending quality time with my bubby, a Holocaust survivor. You'd think that someone like that might understand how dangerous racism and stereotyping is, but she is probably the most racist person I know. You can't spendd 5 minutes with her without her slandering some other ethnic group. My granny told us a few years ago that women who go home with their dates deserve it if they are raped. It's insane to think that either of these women hold such thoughts, just like your friend.

I just have to hope that these things get weaker and die out eventually. We have made some amazing strides in the past 50 years, and while I moan and groan about the amount of work that still needs to be done, it does seem like we are getting somewhat more progressive with each generation.