Last Sunday my grandson and I went to see “42” as part of our birthday celebration. He and I share a birthday and he turned 10 while turned…older. As we were driving to the theater I talked with him about what life was like in the US in late 40’s and 50’s when this wonderful movie about Jackie Robinson takes place. Having done a good part of my growing up in the south, and working there as an adult in the early 70’s I could speak with some knowledge about the attitudes and values of the day. Noah is bright and understood exactly what I was talking about having read a biography of Jackie Robinson as well as learning about the Holocaust. But for me the movie was a starting point rather than just a reminder.
I began to ponder the differences between the America I remember as a boy and the world we now live in. Certainly, the institutionalized racism that was a part of the everyday lives of blacks and whites alike has disappeared. I should also point out that while the south is best known for its racism, it also did a fine job of displaying antisemitic and anti-Catholic attitudes. My personal experiences with antisemitism throughout my school years in Asheville were frequent and intense. And of course my brothers and friends had the same experiences. Yet, while racism was institutionalized in the south, it existed throughout the country along with the other “isms” I mentioned above. Sometimes these prejudices were played out subtlety, and sometimes blatantly, but they were always there.
So here we are in 2013 where racism and all of the other “isms” are no longer in style. But has America really changed? Are the same diseases still lurking around us in disguise? Is the intense battle against liberalizing out immigration policy really about keeping America white and slowing the demographic onslaught that is changing our complexion? Are the constant attacks of anti-Obama rhetoric and the questioning of his qualifications to be our President not based on racist attitudes? Is the battle over gun legislation and the 2nd Amendment not about protection from a government that seems to be controlled by the “other”? And let’s be clear, the “other” is defined as non-white, non-Protestants (though of course while accused of being Muslim, Obama is Protestant) who have a different world view and different values. They support abortion, gay marriage, scientific inquiry and fact, immigration reform and a clear separation of church and state. They also have a world view that calls for a strong America working in concert with its allies to solve world problems rather than bully them. Are these attitudes and issues any less polarizing than the racism of yesterday? I don’t think so.
The movie “42” is about yesterday, but the polarization that exists in America today is not all that different from the racism of yesterday. I look forward to celebrating many more birthdays with my grandson and someday sharing a time when America is truly “indivisible with liberty and justice for all”.