Will anything change now?

I’m cautiously optimistic.

The racist culture of St. Louis County is under siege, and St. Louis County isn’t going to be the same. The old festering sore of police brutality, a nationwide problem, is receiving renewed scrutiny. The changes may not be as extensive or immediate as we’d like to see. But things have gone beyond where the good old boys can return to business as usual after the furor dies down. I get a sense that a breaking point has been reached and the newly aroused public finally is having some influence on this issue.

Remember the Mississippi civil rights murders? And the Birmingham church bombing? Those were bleak days for civil rights activists and their supporters, but those events proved to be turning points in their campaign to change society. De jure segregation is now dead in this country and the KKK is a mere shadow of its former presence in southern life. Racism still exists in America, and we have more work to do, but no one would argue this isn’t a better society than the one that existed before the Civil Rights Movement of 50 years ago.

Society is constantly evolving. We can’t take for granted that every generation will be better than the ones that preceded it. But there is much that’s positive about our current situation. Americans are better educated today than ever before. Communication is much better. Racist acts and police shootings are no longer obscure events that can be swept under a rug. Now, they get massive publicity. Yes, the public still seems apathetic much of the time. But, as we see in today’s protests, the public is still capable of being aroused by outrageous events.

A free and open society does not guarantee a perfect society. All societies are imperfect, including ours, and realistically we should aspire to make it better, not make it perfect. (The aphorism, “the perfect is the enemy of the good,” applies here.) The freedom and openness of our society makes the pursuit of improvement more feasible here than in many places around the globe. (Can you imagine mass protests against police brutality occurring in North Korea? I can, but not under the present regime.)

We face the challenge of an invigorated ideological movement in our country that encourages bigotry, intolerance, and narrow-minded thinking. But, taking a long view of history, I think this movement represents the death throes of old ways of thinking and doing things, not our future. It’s often darkest just before dawn, and to paraphrase Einstein, all you must do to get new ideas accepted is wait for the old ones to die off. As a member of the anti-war and civil rights generation (I came of age in the 1960s), I look around me, and have confidence in the ability and desire of our young to take our nation and society in the right direction.

So, yes, I’m optimistic, but cautiously so, because we can’t take progress for granted and it won’t happen by itself. We have to work at it, just as our predecessors in the labor rights, civil rights, and human rights movements did with great bravery, and at times, at great sacrificeRoger-Rabbit-icon1.



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