Growing up in a racialized society put real limits on all people living in it. As a kid in 1950s Missouri, it seemed natural that my neighbourhood playmates all shared the same basics: pink-skinned, European and English speaking. The contours of the racial divide in this Midwestern state only became clearer to me with age.
No black or Hispanic kids went to my grade school. They lived well away from our neighbourhood in clearly separated areas of the city. By high school one lone Afro-American boy broke the colour bar at my school, along with a handful of other children of hyphenated citizens. The civil rights revolution of the 1960s began stirring the pot.
Constitutional and other legal rights, long ignored when it came to skin colour, were asserted. Invisible lines, drawn by culture and tradition that had circumscribed lives for centuries, also slowly loosened their grip on new generations. For sure this took awhile but seen over the broad sweep of a lifetime these changes occurred remarkably quickly.
When our scout troop organized a swim outing to a popular private lake, the owner wouldn’t let our one Mexican-American member in. Collectively we told him we would all come in or none of us would. He relented. My high school became proactive and sent tutors out to help prepare ghetto kids for the entrance exam. The complexion of my high school changed. Small, simple, individual acts eventually amplified by the millions into massive societal change.
This social change process continues today. Now, however, we are participating, whether we consciously recognize it or not, in the creation of the first truly global ethic. The emerging world-wide value system appears to be drawing its core values from the major religions, age-old philosophical traditions and a novel developing sense of how we must learn to live together on a planet with finite resources and a delicately balanced ecology.
Reaction to the Shafia “honour” killings, repression of the citizenry of Syria, Wall Street greed or disasters, either natural or man-made, point to this emerging common sense of right and wrong. It is now impossible to imagine a world where slavery is an acceptable, even a morally justifiable practice as it was 175 years ago or accept the image of a proper woman as “quiet, servile, industrious” and legally dependent on her husband as it was just a handful of generations ago.
Old lies like “more is better” or “might is right” with rampant consumerism or the resource- and life-wasting militarism these ideas promoted, must also give way to this new global ethic. How long will it take? Hopefully it will not be too long for the sake of coming generations.
Earlier this week I ran across a quote from Dr. Patch Adams reflecting on the military industrial complex in the U.S. He said: “I’ve come to the conclusion that if we don’t change from a value-system based on love of money and power to one based on love of compassion and generosity we will be extinct this century.” The love Dr. Adams refers to places people not things at the centre of his equation. We have to do the same building up from our families and communities to a common global ethic hinged on it.
Happy St. Valentine’s Day and Black History month.
Michael Dougherty is co-chair of the social justice committee of Sacred Heart Cathedral of Whitehorse. Contact firstname.lastname@example.org.