Comfortable prejudices of the '90s

Monica Norton

April 12, 1991|By Monica Norton | Monica Norton,Monica Norton is a reporter for The Evening Sun.

ROSALYN CARTER once said the Reagans had made America comfortable with their prejudices.

That was in the 1980s.

I spent most of that decade in high school and college. As a black woman, I know of what she spoke.

There were no blatant displays of prejudice. It was much more subtle.

There were surprised looks by white classmates amazed that I had scored well on a test.

There were comments that the only reason I received a college scholarship for minority journalism students was because I was a minority. My grades, my activities, my abilities were inconsequential.

There were snide remarks that candlelight vigils and marches would do nothing to make my university divest its holdings in South Africa.

That was the 1980s.

This is the 1990s. Things are supposed to be different now.

We've been told we are moving away from the conservatism of the 1980s. The 1990s have been heralded as a return to the 1960s.

But the 1960s were about many things -- both serious, and not so serious.

The Vietnam War and peace marches. Motown and Beatlemania. Flower children and civil rights advocates.

Many of today's teen-agers and young adults have adopted the popular "culture" of the 1960s. They are wearing their hair longer. They are showing concern for the environment.

I have seen black teen-agers wearing T-shirts proclaiming, "Black by Nature, Proud by Choice."

But I also have seen white teen-agers wearing slogans I had hoped had died in the 1960s.

Just as former Alabama Gov. George Wallace openly proclaimed, "Segregation now, segregation tomorrow, segregation forever," and just as former Birmingham police commissioner Bull Connor proclaimed openly his feelings toward blacks when he lashed demonstrators with water and loosed dogs on them, there is now a growing segment of the population openly and proudly proclaiming prejudices. Wallace and Connor were part of the 1960s. This is the 1990s.

On a recent trip to a local mall, I saw signs we are making great progress -- and a sign we are retrogressing.

I saw a group of pre-teen boys, black and white, apparently friends, running through the food court. I saw a group of teen-age girls, black and white, giggling and flirting with boys. I saw a white teen-age boy holding the hand of his black girlfriend as they shopped in a popular clothing store.

But I also saw a group of teen-age males sporting black jackets that professed their affiliation with the Skinheads, a white supremacy organization. It wasn't the first time I'd seen the Skinheads strutting their racism in public.

There was a time during the 1970s when black power and black pride raised the consciousness of all. Everyone admitted prejudices, but there were very few who celebrated it -- at least not openly.

Even Klansmen still wear hoods.

But the four young men I saw dared. And there have been many more like them who also dare.

But it was not the young men who disturbed me most. It was my fellow shoppers. While I stared in amazement at their boldness, I found not another person who even blinked an eye.

Yes, we have become too comfortable.

This is the 1990s.

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