I am ancient. At least in the eyes of the millennials I am. I remember when a woman could not work outside the home except as a teacher or a nurse. Not a principal. Not a doctor. Just a teacher or a nurse. There were no other job choices besides store clerk (never manager) or cleaning lady.
If you became pregnant, even if married, you had to quit your job. If you didn’t, it was scandalous and you were fired. No choice. You had to be a stay at home mom. In fact, there were only housewives. Moms. You didn’t have to call them “stay at home.” It was taken for granted they’d be home.
I remember when doctors debated openly about whether or not a woman had an orgasm. Most did not believe it existed!
I remember when contraceptives were illegal because they were regarded as immoral. I had to get a doctor to fit me for a diaphragm outside office hours, when his staff had gone home. This was just a few decades ago.
One did not say the word “gay” let alone have gay friends. LGBT citizens hid, never mentioned, let alone publicly acknowledged. No one seriously considered the idea of gay marriage.
I remember that my school, set among rural areas mixed with suburbs, dripped racism from the walls. We were 50% African American. In those days, the phrase was “black,” when you were being polite. When not, the “N” word came easily to the tongue. When Martin Luther King died, the black students lined the halls. Police cars waited in the parking lot. None of the black students went to class. Instead, they blocked the stairwells and stood stone-faced and silent the entire school day.
One day on the school bus, I committed social suicide. It was three years before King’s assassination. Two little girls I did not know sat down politely beside me on the bus. We all sat crowded for the forty minute journey home. When they rose to get off at their stop, I felt a jabbing finger in my shoulder. Turning in my seat, I saw a girl’s round white face, twisted in disgust.
“How can you sit next to THAT?!” she said. I looked at the two girls who had sat with me. Their faces were full of fear. They looked about to cry. Their faces were black.
In the proudest moment of my life, I turned back to the accusing girl and loudly proclaimed, “They’re my friends!” I did not know them and I did not need to know them. But I knew something of how it felt to be bullied and cast out.
Somewhere, those two African American girls may be women now. Maybe they remember the lonely little nerd who stuck up for them. Maybe they voted recently.
But somewhere, there is also the white girl who called her fellow human beings “THAT.” That hatred remained in a generation of voters. That lingering hate, bigotry and racism formed the foundation beneath the values of a large portion of our population. It’s what made the difference in 2009 when Obama asked Congress to come together to work for the nation. The Republicans took a vow, agreeing to “make him a one-term President.” They began obstructionism and carried it on for eight years.
The founding principle of race hate shaped the Presidential election of 2016. Too much of the sixties’ and seventies’ discovery of freedom, of equality, of tolerance toward others made a cauldron of hate simmer, just out of sight. Fueled by economic problems, ironically caused by Republican liberties with the banking industry before 2008, discontent bubbled up. A feeling of resentment festered for those who received food stamps, special programs, and suddenly had the right to live in your neighborhood.
The concept of “they” is toxic. It is hard to be fair, tolerant or generous when you struggle to put food on the table. When Trump began to play the crowd with all the skill of an insult comic, and the morals of a carnival barker, people heard what their guts had been telling them all along. “It’s THAT damn N_.”