“That kind of thing was everywhere around us then,” my grandmother said to me recently. “We just didn’t see it.”
We were talking about racial prejudice that my grandmother saw when she was growing up. Although her parents were quite progressive in their day and never allowed her to use any derogatory terms to describe a social group, racial prejudice was still widely practiced and expected in the surrounding white American culture.
I had been telling my grandmother that I had just watched “Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner?” with my African-American literature class, a movie made in the ’60s with the provocative theme of inter-racial marriage. My grandmother and I also talked about “The Help,” which we both recently finished. As I read the book, it astounded me that such flagrant oppression took place only 50 years ago. It was everywhere, as my grandmother said, and no one could see how awful it was because it was so socially acceptable and ingrained in everyone.
This makes me wonder what the next frontier for social issues will be. What common cultural norm do we practice now that the next generation will look back on and say, “How could they possibly have done things like that?” It’s easy to judge previous generations for their blind spots. But we also need to recognize that we have our own.
It’s fairly socially unacceptable now for white people to be prejudiced against African Americans. No one wants to be perceived as a racist, even though all of us are racists to some degree. But how socially unacceptable is it to be prejudiced against Hispanic people–especially if they are immigrants who don’t speak much English? What about prejudice against Muslims and Asians? It seems to me that this kind of racism is less blameworthy in our society’s eyes, somehow not as serious an offense as racism against blacks.
Maybe there will be significant changes in our food and agricultural systems, such that our children will deplore us for buying food shipped from hundreds or even thousands of miles away. Maybe one day our society will wake up to the fact that the majority of our manufactured goods come from poorly treated, grossly underpaid overseas workers. Maybe the next generation will finally learn how to reduce its energy consumption.
What do you think might be the next frontier in terms of problems our society needs to recognize and changes it needs to make?