Well, here we are... this past February, I became an official senior citizen, 65 years old. I'm a Baby Boomer who is now on Medicare. I graduated from high school in 1969... just a few months before Woodstock took place. We were (supposedly) the generation of sex, drugs, rock-n-roll. Free love, color blind, peaceful. We were going to change the world - the dawning of the Age of Aquarius.
I happen to have been a total failure at the sex, drugs, rock-n-roll part. I often joke that I'm the person who should run for President, because I'm probably one of only two people in my generation who hasn't even smoked marijuana. (Trust me, I don't want the job of President.) Growing up always the new kid in school, always in hand me down clothes, and with parents who were so far from Ward & June Cleaver as to be laughable, I tried with all my might to work hard, get decent clothing, and fit in somewhere. I was married at age 18 in large part because of the sex guilt thing; a holdover from the 50s, I guess.
My mother (Lolo), an incredibly adept astrologer worried over my being absolutely no good at being an Aquarius child. She thought I should frequent jazz clubs, wear long flowing scarves, and do good works while dressed like a 1920s flapper. I was lousy at every aspect of being born in the sign of Aquarius but one - I was color blind. That worried her too - she'd seen what mixed race couples faced, what the children of those couples dealt with, and later, so did I. Unlike my mother, I wasn't losing sleep over it. I was in the most ethnically diverse high school in the city of Minneapolis, and I couldn't apply her worry to my friends.
The summer between my sophomore and junior year of high school, we had "civil unrest;" the burning of shops on Plymouth Avenue, and confrontations between police and black protesters. (http://www.mnopedia.org/event/civil-unrest-plymouth-avenue-minneapolis-1967) Out of that unrest grew The Way, a black empowerment movement, complete with its own building, on Plymouth Avenue. At the beginning of my Junior year of high school, the white girl in an a-line skirt, neat sweater, and pantyhose was sent by her journalism teacher to interview the community leaders at The Way, and write a story for the school newspaper.
The reaction of the school administration and teachers to my article was eye opening. I wrote about the neat brick building, the passion and integrity of the people I interviewed, and their hope for the future. My instructor was asked how much I was paid for the biased article. And that - more than the "riots" on Plymouth Avenue - was my first introduction to the differences between us.
My reaction was always to view all subsequent race events and hate crimes in horror, but yet to put distance between myself and them, because I thought I knew the real people in situations, and knew things weren't really like they were being shown on the news. I distanced myself emotionally, because I didn't accept it as reality.
Over the last few days, I've looked back at all the minor racial events in my life, and have come to realize they weren't minor. There was the accusation of being a biased reporter on The Way story; the experience of racial manipulation in a courtroom setting; the fact that my favorite customer in my southern store (a black woman) refused to have lunch with me in public; being sneaked into my haircutter's shop before opening because I was his only white client. I laughed all of this off, I didn't see it for what it was, I called it a one-time incident, or people seeing an issue where one didn't exist, not an indication of what was seething underneath. And now... I feel like the proverbial old lady, sitting in my rocking chair, only able to look back, and facing all the missed opportunities to make things better.
Most disturbing to me is that I don't feel much different than the girl who wanted decent clothes, to fit in, and thus, to not spend hard-earned money on drugs and parties, even though that's what almost all of my friends at the time were doing. I feel only slightly less colorblind. The really odd thing to me is that those friends who participated in all that the 60s and 70s had to offer, are now the ones who are rigid, unforgiving, and holding others to a much higher standard than they were held to. Many are using found religion, to share their judgement and lack of compassion; their adult children post online support of political candidates who spew hate language, and act as though it's gold. Others are just strident new Republicans, hanging onto their guns.
I have no answers, I don't have a conclusion. I am filled with grief over the loss of what I thought the world at my dotage would be, and what it really is. I am filled with shame for the opportunities to speak up and make a difference that I missed. More than anything, I am so sorry for the number of times I laughed at friends who tried to tell me that something was a racial incident, and I just didn't see it. I don't want to feel like this - like I have to apologize for my entire generation, we had such promise. Where is the love?