Looking to the Future, Present and Past

I'm noticing an interesting divide between the older generations and the current crop of twenty-somethings when it comes to discussing social issues in the USA. Today's conversations are mostly about things like unconscious bias, equal representation, and authenticity of experience. We've come a long way from even a few decades ago, when most progressives were concerned with sexism and racial prejudice.

Before that (before I was born), people fought to get basic human rights. Half of the populace (the women) couldn't vote. Neither could anyone with a drop of African blood in their ancestry. Segregation was in full legal effect. Before that (before any of us were born), we had legalized slavery. For thousands of years, humanity thought it was perfectly fine to own other human beings as property, and the so-called new world was no different.

Today, most people realize it's ridiculous to think that a person's skin color determines their intelligence, or that possession of a vagina incapacitates rational behavior. The remainder know enough to, at the very least, keep such thoughts private or between themselves and like-minded bigots. Today, we're dealing with far more subtle and insidious forms of discrimination. 

And you know what? That's kind of awesome. We can openly call out sports commentators or news headlines or (lately, in my professional world) science fiction & fantasy stories for their unconscious biases. We're asking people to realign their subconscious, to truly embrace the equal potential and rights of all human beings. That we can even have these conversations means we've come so very far. 

Today, I get to ask, why is your vision of the future so white-washed? So male-dominated? Where is the rest of the world? And I love that we get to push against the status-quo, that we get to crack more ceilings and allow the great variety of humanity to rise to the top.

But I'd also like to be mindful of how far we've come and to be gentle with those who are still making the mental and social journey to where we are today. Sure, it would be even more awesome if we lived in a world of equal treatment for all, without bias or preconceived notions, but you know what? We are getting there. We're moving forward on this journey. We have gay rights. We have non-binary genders. We have the right to marry whomever we please, regardless of their skin color. We elected a Black man as President, and soon we might elect a woman (at long last). We're gaining the upper hand.

Naturally, the opposition is hurling ever greater vitriol in our direction. They're cornered and lashing out. So while we're embracing our progressive natures, while we're calling out biased behavior, let's not stoop to their level. The internet, in particular, has magnified and multiplied the amount of snark in every discussion. It allows for pettiness, meanness, and flat-out cruelty. How is this okay? How is it acceptable to call Donald Trump a moron while criticizing him for doing exactly the same thing to others? That's not progress; that's hypocrisy.

I consider myself a liberal. I embrace the idea of a post-racial, post-gender, post-human future where equal treatment is normative behavior, not something that's only mandated by law. I come from a country with a codified caste system. I get the difference between legality and reality. But that same country also embraces personal responsibility. It birthed one of the more famous non-violent, civil disobedience movements. So I say to the upcoming generations of progressives: You don't win people to your cause by acting like assholes. That's a tool of oppression. 

Unconscious bias lives within us all. We need to stay aware of ours even as we look to others, even the older generations of progressives. Most of them are trying to keep up, even if they aren't moving fast enough for today's rate of change. They fought the establishment, too. They took beatings, they absorbed scorn, they stood fast and raised their voices -- and they did it for us, that we could live in a better world. 

And it is better. The USA that we live in today has the most equitable society of its history. Let's move forward together in kindness and respect, not spewing insults and heaping scorn like our regressive opponents. As we reach ever higher on the scale of social progress, let's be mindful of how far we've climbed and be gentle with the shoulders upon which we stand.