"The wheel of history turned at a blinding pace."
Obama speaking on the fall of Mubarak, February 11, 2011
I know my children get tired of hearing me say this: "You are living through historic times!"
I'm sure other generations have felt this way. I've heard my mother speak of growing up during the Great Depression and the fear and anxiety that followed the Pearl Harbor attacks.
And then there was World War II, although to hear my older relatives describe the period, it was a time when blacks could finally make decent money and move North. I suppose they considered that era -- the forties and fifties -- historic.
As a child growing up in the 60's, I remember the historic scenes from the nightly news -- the fights of the civil rights movement, with the photos of dogs attacking people who looked like me; the Vietnam War protests, the Kent State shooting; and everybody dancing the twist -- even in the White House!
But mostly, I remember as a child being traumatized by the assassinations -- Kennedy, King, and Kennedy. For years (and sometimes even today) I would bristle whenever I heard on TV -- "We interrupt this broadcast..." Those were indeed historic times.
We moved to South Los Angeles in 1965, a few months after the first riots -- called the Watts Riots. Even though the city of Watts was only a few blocks, all of the South Central area was called Watts in the years after the riots.
I remember the burned-out buildings and sense of dismay in the black neighborhoods. Fortunately, the discouragement was soon replaced with shouts of the James Brown anthem, "Say It Loud, I'm Black and I'm Proud!" and a new sense of pride overtook the community. The best and brightest in the community were recruited into major universities, with some going East to prep schools and the Ivy League. This was in pre-crack South Central L.A. Before the drugs decimated our community.
I must admit, I didn't think the riots could happen again. Especially after so many of us were able to leave South Los Angeles and move to the West Side (or far-away suburbs). But it did happen again in 1992, and as I watched the violence, looting, and fires, I thought, "I don't believe this is happening again in L.A. This is historic!"
However, nothing prepared me for the 2000s. It seems that from that year, until today, the world has been turned upside down. Not all of it has been bad: there is a Black man -- an intelligent, capable, intelligent American leader -- in the White House. As president!
Still, from my point of view -- that of an African American living in Southern California -- the years since 2000 have indeed been historic and sometimes devastating. Where to start?
1. The Election of Bush: Who knew a small number of votes, in a state where one of the candidate's brother is the governor, could decide an election? (With the help of a sympathetic Supreme Court.) I remember watching the inauguration on TV and wondering, "What have we done?" On the other hand, call it karma, fate, or divine intervention (my personal belief), but I firmly believe it was this election that set in motion the events that would propel Barack Obama into the Presidency.
2. 9/11: A national tragedy... a horrific event that for many will always be an open wound. Many call it our generation's Pearl Harbor; maybe so. But we recognize that in this case most of the victims were civilians. The aftermath of this fateful day changed forever our thoughts on being safe in the homeland. Look at the security checks we now endure at the airports. My kids won't know (and honestly sometimes I forget) that there was a time in America when people could go near the gates, and wait on someone or have a meal, without a flight ticket.
3. The Iraq War: All I can say about this historic event is -- Why? Why? Why? Still, we salute our military people who always show up and do their job.
4. Katrina: There were two things that shocked me here. The first I am embarrassed to admit as an African American! You see, I didn't realize the extent of black poverty that existed in New Orleans until Katrina. Second, who can forget refugees stranded on rooftops, and in the Superdome of all places, begging for food and water in America!
5. The Housing Mess: Seeing small homes in some of the depressed areas of Los Angeles selling for seven times what they should have sold for via questionable "creative" loans... well, it wasn't hard to figure it wouldn't last. Many homeowners knew this and took every last penny out of their equity to spend, spend, spend. I never expected to see so many abandoned houses in suburban neighborhoods which were built just a few years ago.
6. The Election of Obama: Joining Americans from across the country in DC during inauguration week... seeing people of all ages, races, and income levels celebrate his election... feeling united as a country... hoping that we would move forward. Let's just say that for me, it was the best of history. But then came....
7. The Ugly Discourse: Not everyone was happy with the outcome of the election, particularly the race of their new President. Minorities in America understand the keywords and the subtleties when some question his motives, faith, and birthright. Seeing a US congressman facing angry mobs with racial taunts outside the US Capitol took me back to the 1960s. We know this is beyond mere political protest (such as what we are seeing in Wisconsin). We know overt racism is always simmering just below the surface of the American melting pot.
8. The Assault on the Black Middle Class: To be fair, the assault is on all of the middle class, we just always seem to pay a higher cost. Those of us who made it through the turbulent years thought life would be better for those who followed. We didn't think we would have to again fight for jobs, housing, education, and health care. Not in 2011. We didn't think that all of the economic, social, and educational advances we made could be wiped out in just a few years. As I said, this is not just a Black thing; it's a common refrain from all.
9. The 'Great' Recession: They say it isn't as bad as the Great Depression, but for those living through it, these are extremely tough economic times. Our children know it. They see teacher lay-offs, programs canceled at the parks and recs, parents losing jobs, families buying less food, and many losing their homes. I guess telling them, "These are historic times," doesn't mean much because these are the only times they know. We wonder if it will get better. We have gone from having disposable income, to having our income being disposed of by forces we don't understand and can't control.
10. The Middle East: When I was a child, the talk was of the Cold War and the Cuban Missile Crisis (didn't realize how dangerous and historic that event was until I was much older). We had drills in elementary school to show us what to do in case of nuclear attack -- hide under our desks. Later I heard of the domino theory and the fear that communism would spread across a region and the countries would fall like dominoes. Now we seem to have this domino effect going on in the Middle East... however, it appears to be democracy or some kind of "People Power" spreading. Seeing the regime in Egypt fall in 18 days, and the protests continuing across the Middle East is unbelievable. I can't tell my kids what this means -- how it will affect our economy and security -- but I do tell them, "What just happened in Egypt... what is happening in Libya.... this is historic!"
11. Technology: As a former computer programmer and analyst, I wasn't surprised to see computers get smaller and more powerful over the decades. I have however been totally unprepared for the mobility and social aspect of technology.
Did not see Facebook coming!
I could envision the internet and cloud computing, but not social media or iPhones. You see, I looked at technology from a business standpoint, and while I knew it would make our lives easier, I didn't see how it would rewrite our inter-personal communications -- everywhere! I didn't know we would all be "hooked-up" to each other. I kid you not, my 77-year-old mother is demanding a Facebook account to look up old friends! This is indeed historic.
So yeah... I am sort of thinking we are moving at a "blinding pace" as the President said. Sort of like an out-of-control rocket. The questions are when and where will we land? Will history repeat itself, or are we headed to a place where no man's ever gone before? Either way it will be historic.