There has been a lot of turmoil in the United States these past few weeks. Unusual turmoil. Yes, I know, there is a deadly pandemic, not that turmoil, that turmoil is for another post. This is not the first time the United States has experienced such turmoil. In fact, many aspects of the turmoil today echo turmoil from the past.
Racial, ethnic and religious intolerance is a hallmark of the United States. One could argue that the founding of the United States was, at least in part, a result of the religious intolerance in 17th century Europe. It should come as no surprise then that intolerance thrives in the United States today. It is genetic.
From the Founding Fathers to the present day, the United States has blamed the problems it faces on racial, ethnic and religious bogymen. The Puritan line of the Founding Fathers had the Catholics, and all the Founding Fathers had the Native Americans. In the 1840’s it was the Irish, followed by the Germans, and the Chinese, and from 1880 to 1920, it was the southern and eastern Europeans. The list goes on.
Most of these religious and ethnic groups came willingly, seeking a better life, although some indentured themselves to afford the trip. Africans came as slaves, against their will, as early as the 17th century. Moreover, although the United States Congress banned the importation of slaves in 1808, it was not until the end of the Civil War in 1865 that Africans became at least partial human beings in the United States.
As the years wore on, many of the second-generation ethnic and religious groups victimized by intolerance fomented intolerance. As these groups blended into the United States and became an accepted part of this grand experiment, they slipped easily into the intolerance habit, in spite of their recent experience on the other side of the equation.
However, one group, those exposed to racial intolerance, has never easily blended into the grand experiment. The very nature of the fabric of the grand experiment keeps them from becoming a part of the experiment. Africans and other people of color have fought for every scrap of fabric they have.
From the early 1960’s, one hundred years after emancipation, until today, they still have to fight for every scrap. Selma, Martin Luther King, the Watts riots, Reagan’s “Welfare Queen”, Rodney King, Treyvon Martin, Michael Brown, and so many others that it boggles the mind, are all echoes from past turmoil in the present turmoil.
However, the present turmoil is unusual when compared to past turmoil. The sides have changed, the protesters are more diverse, the outrage is more widespread, and the rhetoric more direct. Perhaps it is social media. Perhaps it is fatigue. Perhaps it is just time. We may never know.
Maybe a generation finally says “Enough.” I hope my generation is listening to that generation. They have something important to say.