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The Next Greatest Generation

Beatifying an entire generation and forgetting its mistakes does us no good.

In the last decade we have celebrated the World War II generation again and again, with memorials, films, and countless books. We've jumped with a “Band of Brothers,” saved Private Ryan, island hopped across “The Pacific.” It was a pretty huge thing, standing up to the Axis powers, and we should
never discount or forget the unspeakable horrors committed by the Japanese and Germans in the name of racial superiority, or the sacrifices of those who fought.

But it might do us some good to also remember that we did not enter the war until it came to our own door. It might be important to remember that the veterans of that noble and courageous generation came home to a segregated country, folks like Sheriff Jim Clark, who deputized all of the white men in
Dallas County, Alabama so they could assist in brutally suppressing the voting rights efforts in Selma.

That Senator Joseph McCarthy, the demagogue that destroyed careers and lives with his witch hunt for communists, ran on his war record. No generation is perfect. Beatifying an entire generation and forgetting its mistakes does us no good.

My grandmother is part of that generation, and I love her. I mean, who doesn't love their “Gram”? But she broke my heart on election day when she chastised my mother, saying “you probably voted for that heathen.” The “heathen” in question was our president, and as he comes from the same Christian tradition that ordained me, Gram's beloved “first grandbaby,” we can assume she was not referring to his faith, though one can never know in this age of disinformation.

Rather, I suspect she was referring to his race, the same issue that lead some at Romney/Ryan rallies to wear “Put the White back in the White House” t-shirts. You see, I am a son of that same deeply segregated South, a land where for many racial hatred trumped religious hatred, allowing them to go to the polls and vote for a non- Christian white man over a Christian man of color. Gram still lives in that world where the proper order of things is white men on top of the heap, white women second, and everyone else somehow arranged in a powerless mass.

Of course, many voted for the Romney/Ryan ticket because they believed in the ticket's platform, with race playing no role. But the subtext of the election was the struggle Americans are having adjusting to a new reality. Old white men no longer rule the world. And they never will again.

Younger Americans have no time for the old systems of hatred and oppression. Sure there was that famous election night tweet by a young woman in Georgia claiming that she was moving to Australia,
where the president “is a Christian and he does what he says.” (Australia has no president, and the Prime Minister is both female and atheist.) But the misinformed tweeter is a rather dull exception.

It was young voters that helped carry the re-election of our first mixed-race president. And it was younger voters and changing hearts that saw marriage equality pass at the polls for the first time, and in four states.

Those political parties and churches that cling to medieval notions of patriarchy and racial power will find themselves marginalized in coming decades, out of touch with the majority. Sure, there will be some backlash, talk of secession and Limbaugh-fueled violence.

There always is one last spasm of old power structures. But the days when a handful of white men can dictate what happens in the lives of others is numbered, whether the issue is the covenant of marriage or women's control over their own bodies. I'm becoming one of those old white men. Just ask my urologist. But I welcome this new world, diverse and creative and good.

Yet even as I embrace the new realities, I pray that we can remember what was good and noble in the “greatest” generation, can care for them in their final years even as we boldly move forward.

The “me” that is “post-colonialist” can rebel against the expropriation of First American culture even as I recall fondly touring Jamestown as a small child with Gram and Granddaddy, plastic tomahawk in hand. And I will gladly step out of my world and into her's for visit, loving her, for what time we have
left. After all, she's my Gram.

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