So, for some inexplicable reason, Lifetime decided to resurrect the 1980s Pulp Fiction novel, Flowers in the Attic, last weekend. Without giving it any more airtime or glory, it’s a rather awkward series of novels about a family that one could refer to as “dysfunctional”.
Of course, real life, families literal and figurative, tend to have secrets, messy closets and drawers behind the showcase living rooms, spots on the shirts under the sweaters in the Christmas photo and all that. (Although one would like to think that most families are less “dysfunctional” than the fictional above.)
Countries are like families, and countries tend to have their secrets, just like people and families. I think one of the most fascinating lessons of international travel is that whatever you think you know about other countries is likely water downed and at least partially wrong. And, as you interact with foreign nationals, both in this country and in other places, you also start to realize that much of their image of the United States is somewhat akilter.
Monday was Martin Luther King, Jr.’s Birthday (Observed) Holiday. The gentleman, as I am sure you know, made a name for himself fighting a level of race segregation that would have made South Africa in the 1970’s proud. (And we all accept as true that South Africa should be ashamed of itself for embarrassing the rest of the White People and no one else ever did anything like they did. After 1970.) Not only do I think American’s have been very quick to forget our own history (as well as assume a level of progress that I think, well, is assumed), I think many foreigners simply dismiss it as actions of a small lunatic fringe, assume it could never possibly have been as bad as people make it out to be, or it really doesn’t register for them at all.
There is even less awareness both here at home and elsewhere about the living conditions in much of the United States and level of governance and democratization pre-1970, much more obscure and intangible indicia of Advancement. That the percentage of households lacking an indoor toilet in 1960 in some counties exceeded 30 percent, that our contemporary notions of health care, K-12 education, and even garbage removal existed in pockets rather than as a nationwide norm.
Yes, we mobilized the nation, fought a big War, freed two continents, or significant parts of them, and helped them rebuild their glory. But in doing so, we really did leave our own People behind, White as well as Black and others. Progress is made and we do better. How far we have come—do we have farther to go? How much capacity can one build in a decade, a lifetime? Does it help to look at the Nation’s Christmas photographs and believe the big smiles and the neat sweaters and ignore the stains on the shirts underneath?
I guess what the movies (both Brit and made for TV) would tell us is that healing comes from facing the past and its consequences, and memories left in the Attic fester and corrupt the Future.
As a kid, your parents tell you, don’t pick scabs, scabs are nature’s bandage. Go to the doctor with an infected cut, the first thing they do is remove the scab to “debreed” the cut. Of course, that hurts like a b!tc&. It does clear up the infection, though.
So, this year we celebrate the 50th Anniversary of the Civil Rights Act. Undeniable Progress. Unbelievable Progress? History forgotten in a messy closet? A locked door, a Wall in the Mind? We’re happy to talk about where we are. Perhaps that discussion should include where we started.