Over a year ago, my father made a series of audio recordings for my brother and me talking about his life and family in rural Arkansas. Those recordings clarified many things that never quite made sense about my father and his family, but also revealed the cold truth of what America looked like if you were Black in the home of the free and land of the brave. My Pops came up under Jim Crow and its remnants and to be frank it wasn’t a pretty picture.
It saddened me to learn that my father had wanted to be a scientist but was told that simply wasn’t possible, after all he was Black. I now understand why my Dad lost his shit years later when a high school teacher told my brother that architecture probably wasn’t something he should aspire to…my brother has studied architecture in Germany, Toronto and other places and now holds two masters degrees. Dad refused to let another generation have its dreams stolen due to bigotry.
Yesterday a friend revealed to me that after being out as a gay man for over 25 years, his family is no longer comfortable with him being gay, as they now live in the south and having a gay relative is a liability. My friend is crushed but as he told me, if he never sees them again, it is their loss as he refuses to go back in the closet for anyone.
So why am I sharing this, you may ask. I was inspired by this post that I came across while perusing the BlogHer site (in all fairness, this was the post featured on BlogHer but I decided to look at the blogger’s site). I am always intrigued when people wax poetic about the old America. At times I have been accused of looking back maybe a little too fondly on the America of yesterday, well there are things that have changed, that I do miss but by and large I have no desire to go back to the old America.
See, in the old America being anything other than white, male, heterosexual or Protestant could literally be hazardous to your health. In the old America being different meant you didn’t have life, liberty or pursuit of happiness. In the old America women were treated like property, not that long ago domestic violence was treated as a personal issue and not as a crime. So if your man wanted to beat your ass, in many places in that old America he might be told to lay off you but that was it. Needless to say a lot of women lived in pain and even died.
In the old America, being gay, lesbian, bisexual, or transgendered meant you could be actively discriminated against and depending on where you were in that old America you might even be killed and no one would do jack shit…after all you chose to be different. If in the new America you find yourself wondering why there are so many gay and lesbians, it’s because it’s a lot safer to open the closet door. It can still be unsafe but thanks to years of advocacy and public education, chances are better that you won’t be shunned or lose your life.
See, old America was a small minded place that didn’t give a damn about anyone who didn’t fit in the box and while new America at times might seem overzealous with its rules and laws, it’s a far safer place to be for many. In this new America, you do need to be mindful before you open your mouth, you have the right to say whatever you want but trust and believe that ignorance is dealt with swifter than ever before.
In old America, people suffering from mental illness were locked away and hidden instead of receiving the medical treatment they needed and often times viewed as deficient even though mental illness is no different than physical illness.
I could go on and on and in the end, old America was frankly a pretty shitty place for many of us. This new America is no panacea but by golly, I will take it. After all in the old America, I hardly think a Black woman from Chicago could end up in a place like Maine and be allowed to make a difference in the lives of so many, so yeah this thing is personal to me. Good bye old America, let’s agree to never see each other again and I am going to work on making my relationship with new America better.