“It is my honor to be here, to stand on the shoulders of those who came before,” Kamala Harris, the first female, the first black, the first Asian American Vice-President of the U.S.A. proudly said in her first address to the nation on inauguration day. Her tone is optimistic, her goals are ambitious, and her energy seems unlimited.
It is true, we all are standing on the shoulders of those who came before, all the women who prepared the way for our progress, our achievements. And there has been quite a bit of progress as Carol Dyhouse, a social historian at the University of Sussex, describes in her new book, Love Lives: From Cinderella to Frozen. The title is a bit misleading. Though myths, fairy tales, and popular culture tropes still influence us, Dyhouse outlines how women in the western world have abandoned the restrictions of domestic life since the 1950s and gradually, though often painfully, have claimed access to education and the professional world. A long path it has been to self-determination and economic independence.
But even now the question remains: Have we made enough progress? Because I do worry about “my girls” these days, as Michelle Obama describes them. I worry about “my boys,” too, but this is a blog post to remind ourselves of International Women’s Day and Women’s History Month. Both encourage us to reflect on those who came before, but also on those to whom we pass the baton, whose legs we steady on our shoulders.
At the dinner table, on the train, or at work, we witness discriminatory language or racist remarks from time to time. We often know that we should say something, but we – for one reason or another – do not always get involved. Many people would like to do more but don’t always know how. Dr. Nancy Dome, who has worked with children and educators for over 20 years, has literally made that quandary both her business and mission. This week’s blog features an interview with the CEO of Epoch Education about fostering the understanding of diversity and the development of inclusive cultures.
When I was five years old, I announced my new discovery: “Negroes (the polite term at the time) are bad.” My parents tried to correct me, but I felt my logic was unshakable: When the radio reported a crime, the perpetrator was often black. They never said that a suspect was white. I didn’t know any black people in our segregated town, but I knew many white people, and none of them were criminals. This was an open-and-shut case in my five-year old’s mind.
A few weeks later, my father took me downtown to see a parade. He struck up a conversation with a black woman we were standing next to. She had a baby, who captured my interest, though I was more entranced by her Kraft Caramels (my favorite candy at the time) she shared generously with me. This, of course, completely shattered my baby bigotry.
When I was approaching middle age, I reflected on the incident. Only then did I realize that when I was young, parade-viewing areas – as well as everything else – were strictly segregated in Enid, Oklahoma. It must have taken some planning and more than a small amount of courage to arrange for us to stand in the “colored area” next to a friendly woman who just happened to have a cute baby and my favorite candies.
The issue of race did not come up often in our small, mostly white town (at least not in the white community), so I had little need to reflect on what I had learned until Emmett Till’s murder on August 28, 1955, made national news and provoked national outrage.
“Do they have traffic lights in Ireland?” This was a naive question posed to my cousin on a visit to the United States in the 1980s. To my pre-teen intellect, this was the kind of insult that demonstrated the height of American ignorance my friends and I so often scoffed at. There was laughter at such a ludicrous concept.
The image of Ireland as backward bordered on comical and more often, irritating. After all, we were a nation with a deep history and a rich culture with literary giants like James Joyce, Oscar Wilde, and W.B. Yeats. Musically, we boasted the renowned talent of everything from The Dubliners and Thin Lizzy to the global phenomenon of U2. In our minds, we might be a small island, but we were extremely proud and accomplished.