What am I doing now that people will be protesting in the future?
By Ashley Bean Thornton
What am I doing now that people 100 years in the future will look back on with outrage?
There could be many things. Drinking water from plastic bottles? Eating beef that takes acres and acres of land to raise? Driving a gas guzzler?
Maybe it’s something I am not actively “doing,” but something I am tolerating: Homelessness? Drastic disparities in education? People getting locked up because they crossed some arbitrary border between countries to look for work?
I don’t know exactly what it will be, but I imagine there are things that I think of as normal, or practical, or unsolvable, or “within my rights” today — things that I hardly think twice about or even things that make me proud — that will be reason for outrage, disbelief, or disgust 20, 50 or a 100 years from now.
It may sound odd, but that idea feels hopeful to me.
It means that our children and grandchildren can make progress, that they can be better than us, smarter, that the long arc of the moral universe can truly bend toward justice, and goodness, and loving our neighbors.
If I had been a resident of Little Rock in 1957 when nine students integrated Central High, I think there’s a better than 50/50 chance that I would have been against it. I imagine I would have gone along with what my family thought, and I know my family would have been against it.
When I was a child, the “n-word” was not a bad word in my house, it was just a regular word that my dad used every day. I was not allowed to invite Black children home from school to play. Nobody had to make a big deal about telling me, it was just something you didn’t do in my family.
I don’t remember the news stories from when I was a child, but I can only imagine that incidents like what happened to George Floyd and others were happening then just like now. Except then, no one I would have known would have ever heard a thing about it. If we had heard about it, I imagine it would have been met with a shoulder shrug and a thought, spoken or unspoken, that he surely must have deserved what he got.
In the span of my lifetime, things that were normal in my family and my world when I was a child have become an outrage, even in my middle-of-the-road White circle of friends and family and acquaintances. (Surely they were always an outrage in the Black community.) That is good. Outrage at bad things that were once accepted as normal is progress.
That is the thought in the front of my mind.
In the back of my mind I have another thought. My dad, my grandmother, some of the White people in the towns where I was raised were very nearly 100% wrong in the way they thought about and often treated Black people. They were not, however, 100% bad people. They were hard working people, teachers, builders, church goers, people who made your favorite pickles for your birthday and chicken and dumplings when you came for a visit. People who came to get you when you were homesick. People who made you laugh so hard you cried. People like me. People I loved.
As we take down monuments and re-name school buildings, the biggest part of me is proud of us for moving forward, for realizing we should – at the very least – not continue to glorify the wrong thinking, wrong actions, and wrong actors of our checkered history.
Some part of me though wonders if there wasn’t more to that slave owner or confederate general than the worst thing he ever did. Was he also a hard worker? A church goer? A story teller? A builder? A dreamer? I say that not to condone what that slave owner or Confederate general did, but to humanize him and to be able to tolerate making the connection to myself.
When we look back into history and categorize people as “bad,” that lets us off the hook in a way. They were bad, we are good, we would not have done that bad thing. To be honest with myself, I need to be able to hold in my heart two truths that grate against each other: (1) What they did was terrible. (2) They probably also did good things, and I would have probably liked them.
There is good in us even though we do bad, just like there is certainly bad in us even though we do good. Throughout history, some of the most terrible things that we have done to each other have not been done by evil people, but by people who are like us — a mixture of good and bad — who thought of themselves as mostly good, and maybe even were mostly good.
So that makes me wonder: what am I doing/not doing now that people 100 years in the future will look back on with outrage, or disbelief, or disgust? It’s probably something that I don’t think much about. Something normal. Something widely believed or at least tolerated by my friends and family. I might hear people speaking out about it, but it’s easy to dismiss them as overly sensitive “fringe elements,” or worry-warts, or people who just don’t understand how the world works.
What monuments, social structures, norms am I building or maintaining now that will be justifiably torn down in outrage 10, 20, 50, 100 years from now?
It’s a disturbing, interesting thought. It gives me hope for the generations who will come after me. It allows me to have compassion for the generations who came before me without accepting what they did as right. It challenges me to look at my actions now through the lens of the future. And, it allows for a tiny teaspoon of patience for people who think differently from me.
This Act Locally Waco blog post is by Ashley Bean Thornton, she has lived in Waco almost 20 years now. Far longer than she ever lived anywhere else. She is retired from Baylor works part time helping to organize after school programs for Transformation Waco. She likes to walk. If you see her out walking, honk and wave and say, “Hi!”
The Act Locally Waco blog publishes posts with a connection to these aspirations for Waco. If you are interested in writing for the Act Locally Waco Blog, please email [email protected] for more information.