First of all, I have spent twenty-seven of the past thirty years living and working abroad — Thailand, the Philippines, Japan and Oman. I was back in the States from October 1998 to August 2001. Consequently, I can’t offer any real stories about the state of the nation today.
Nonetheless, let me offer some background. I’m fifty-nine years old and I grew up in a small town in central Florida. I suppose I’m a member of the last generation to have experience segregation: I can remember the separate toilets and separate water fountains, the lunch counters for whites only, the segregated schools. In my town we had two hospitals, one for whites and one for blacks. So it’s natural for me to feel a lot of progress has been made over the years. The civil rights movement was prominent in the news when I was in elementary school and junior high school.
I came of age in the late sixties and early seventies, when the country was so polarized and nearly tore apart — over the war, of course. However, the civil rights movement and the opposition to the war also fueled a social revolution which eventually led to “identity politics,” the new feminism, black militancy, the gay rights movement etc. Over time, many of these “issues” became mainstream and widely accepted, though more in some parts of the country than others.
A lot has happened since then, a huge increase in immigration and the introduction of the internet most importantly, in my opinion. Maybe because of this, and the influence of other media, young people today tend to be more tolerant, more secularized and more open to an activist government. I think a lot of people my age also fit into this pattern.
However, there are those who feel threatened by all these changes. The America they idealized is disappearing — it’s no longer exclusively a straight white man’s world, religion is no longer the force it once was, sexuality is more fluid. There are those who react strongly to change.
I realize this is not really anecdotal, but it seems a reasonable summary of where we stand right now. As for the future, patience is a virtue. It seems to me that changing demographics will decide what happens: it’s almost Biblical; the minorities will become the majority; the majority will become the minority.
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