My goodness!! Sometimes I wonder if we truly live in the 21st century? I’ve read several articles about the Voting Rights Act, Paula Deen (and several other ‘celebrities’ who have let loose with racial and offensive slurs) and Trayvon Martin/George Zimmerman over the past few weeks. I can’t say that I understand much about the Voting Rights Act issue. Being from Arizona and born in the mid-60s gives me little frame of reference for racial prejudice (illegal immigration didn’t really touch me back then). Visiting my mom’s stomping grounds in Texas and living in Alabama for 4 1/2 years in the 1990s give me some perspective. As a child, I remember the days-long road trips to Texas and staring out the car window in boredom. I saw many signs on restaurants that read ‘Members Only.’ When I asked my parents what that meant, my mom responded, “Only white people can eat there–it’s how they get around the laws.” Once, when I felt overly-bored of the car and hungry, I said, “So we could stop and eat in one of those places?” Both my parents stiffened and said, “We will never go to a place with one of those signs.” At 7, I began to understand prejudice and where my family stood.
Because of those experiences, I understand, from an ideological view, why the Supreme Court overturned the Voting Rights Act. However, in order for that view to be just and fair, I believe we must repeal the electorate, have each individual vote counted and the majority vote of the people decide our elections. “Our country has changed,” explained Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. I want to believe that theory. But, how can I? I’ve also read many articles about Texas immediately after the Supreme Court’s decision putting into effect a voter identification law that previously had been blocked. I read articles about egregious racism by international chef and personality Paula Deen. The Trayvon Martin case breaks my heart. And, so my friends from the South don’t think that I’m picking on them, a contestant from Philadelphia on one of my favorite summertime shows (MasterChef) tweeted some really offensive, racist remarks. Don’t get me started on Alec Baldwin, Mel Gibson or the many other celebrities who while inebriated or just in rage have let loose indefensible insults. Has our country changed?
Transitioning takes so much time. I think of all the moves we’ve made with the military. It took about 3-6 months to feel settled. It took about 3 months to adjust to our first child, 6 months to adjust to our second child and 18 months to feel like we had control with three (notice I said ‘feel.’ I’m not sure we ever had control….). Changing a whole nation and culture takes decades; but it does happen. I look at South Africa, where we have dear friends, and how far they’ve come in 30 years since apartheid and how far they still have to go. Our friends have said that they are not sure what will happen when the ailing Nelson Mandela actually dies. He symbolizes grace and forgiveness in a volatile state, much like Gandhi did for India. Much like Martin Luther King, Jr. in our country. My heart grows weary and heavy when I think that many of our ‘symbols’ become martyrs. Mandela’s long life is an exception to that rule.
So, I worry over the implications of not having the Voting Rights Act to protect minority voices in our nation. I worry that our country’s stability rests on laws and not in the hearts of its people. Discouragement surrounds my heart at all the injustices I see and feel.
But, I do have hope. I read multiple articles about the first integrated prom in Wilcox County, Georgia. How students at the high school went against the adult views of having a ‘black prom’ and a ‘white prom’ since the 1970s and organized their own prom. My heart almost burst with pride at the courage and tenacity of these students. I know so many youth and young adults who protect their peers who are bullied. I cheer on the multitudes who will not accept another suicide in their towns and have befriended the ‘fringe’ kids in their schools. May we learn by their example how to ‘work at living in peace with everyone … [and to] look after each other so that none … fails to receive the grace of God’ (Hebrews 12:14, 15).
Our country has a long way to go before we see stability with all the transitions. We won’t know if overturning the Voting Rights Act corrupts the democracy process until we have an election. But, I know our youth and young adults can accept the challenges that our generation gives them. We have raised an incredible generation of young adults capable and willing to take ownership of their culture. Let us celebrate our children and our children’s children as they learn to lead our country and our world. Let us encourage their efforts to build bridges and seek to live in peace. Let us stand confidently alongside them as they discover that the foundations we laid are actually springboards for them to go farther than we dreamed possible–just as we have grown past our parents’ and grandparents’ expectations (and perhaps desires). Power and control are hard to give up; but for us to move forward, we must make room for the next generations to show us where to go.