I am getting to be a pretty old guy. I just had my 71st birthday. There are some terrible things about getting old. You have to get up often in the middle of the night. You get tired walking through the airport. Instant romance becomes a sad joke.
But you do get a sense of perspective, and that used to be worth something.
For example, in my generation, growing up in Maryland and DC, we had a darned good idea of what racism was. My elementary school, beloved Parkside, in an almost unbelievably beautiful setting, was segregated. Black children, or “colored” as they were usually called, were barred by law from attending.
The only black man on the premises was the janitor, Willie, a kindly old fellow endlessly sweeping the halls.
The buses in Maryland were segregated and blacks sat in the back. The buses in DC had only just been integrated and they still had a faded white line separating the formerly all white parts of the bus from the black parts. Older black people usually made their way to the back.
Many of the kids in my schools, and I mean many, routinely called black people by what we now know as the N word. Even one of the grade school teachers used to call black people “coons,” a horrible word.
I got called a “kike” and got into fights many a time for telling my classmates not to call black people you know what.
The neighborhoods in Maryland and DC and Virginia were segregated by race and religion. Jews and blacks and Asians could not live in the best neighborhoods and well into the late 1950s could not go to the elite private day schools.
Now that, pals, was racism. It was real and it was fought by real heroes like Dr. King and Medgar Evers and Goodman, Chaney, and Schwerner. They all lost their lives fighting for equal rights for all races. Some of us old folks joined in too when we were young, and spent a little time in jail for our trouble.
Today, racism is legally invisible, but enormous in the eye of the beholder. It can be unbearable racism if a student thinks he was being looked at cross wise by a man driving by in a truck. It can be cruel racism if there are not enough blacks in faculty positions, whether they have meaningful credentials or not. It is racism at the University of Minnesota to mark 9/11 because it calls attention to the fact that the mass murderers were Arabs, persons of color, and that might make it “unsafe” for students of color on that day. I’m not kidding about this. It’s racism to allow Jews to defend Israel because Israel, the only lawful state in the Mideast, is by definition racist. In a word, we have gone from serious persecution to something like a fantasy video game of persecution. But the players of the game, far too many of our so-called higher education students, pretend to take it very seriously. They march. They go on hunger strikes. Even if their parents are multi-millionaires, they protest their wretched status as victims.
It’s nice to be young. You can be as stupid and vicious as you want and no one but a few of us old folks knows enough to call you on your BS. But we see it, your fake victimization and your need for “safe spaces” and it’s pitiful, and so are the students who are behind it, and the candy ass faculty who give in to it and pretend it’s real.
Sometimes it’s good to be old.