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The Long, Inexorable Rise of Change

So much is happening in the United States at this moment. Strike that -- so much is always happening in our country but, this week, it feels like more than usual is taking place. Such is the power of the media, I suppose. Regardless, the riots in Baltimore have left me agonizing over the state of race and police relations, and the commencement of same-sex marriage arguments in front of the US Supreme Court has left me feeling anxious for the future of marriage equality in our country.

The fact that these events are occurring at all is both sad and remarkable. It's sad that, in 2015, we're still torn apart by racial conflict. It's unclear how many centuries need to pass before we learn to treat each other with respect, whether we're wearing a uniform or we're simply an average citizen. It's remarkable that the societal discussion of same-sex marriage has reach SCOTUS in such a relatively swift manner, given the fact that it was a very taboo subject (especially politically) just a decade or two ago.

With slavery used to power its initial economic engine, to having a half-black president, it is undeniable that America has, to coin a phrase from a cigarette company, come a long way, baby. And still.... racism, like still waters, runs deep within our veins. It is a bizarre concept for me, perhaps because I am the product of Caucasian and African-American parents. People are people. That we have decided to use skin color as a continual separation point is both harmful and inane. Currently, it shows no signs of abatement.

Fifty years ago, homosexuality was still the "love that dare not speak its name." Now we have state after state recognizing same-sex couples and, today, the US Supreme Court is hearing oral arguments both in favor and against such unions. On the one hand, the incredulity that this is still a thing is very much warranted. Then again, given where we were on the subject in the not-too-distant past, it's surprising that we've come this far in such a relatively short amount of time.

And there's the rub.

Humanity, with its imperfections, is never going to get everything right. The best we can (and should) do is strive for constant improvement in ourselves, and how we treat one another and this world that we inhabit. So it is with sadness and frustration that I realize that change comes slowly. Yes, even the fairly rapid advancements in LGBT rights has come after decades -- even centuries -- of oppression. My heart breaks when I think of all those who have never seen these heady days.

Likewise, the emancipation of slaves in the United States is a huge stone in the foundation of our continuing democracy. Voting rights for women and minorities, the Civil Rights Act, integration, legalization of interracial marriages and the voices of folks like Martin Luther King, Jr. and Malcolm X have been as important as Washington crossing the Delaware. So many strides have been made, yet we (obviously) have so far to go.

Fifty, a hundred, a hundred-and-fifty years ago, it is very possible that I wouldn't have existed, or at least would have existed in very dour circumstances. The product of an interracial relationship, my parents were able to marry in 1970. In 1870? I likely would have been the product of the master of the house forcing himself onto the cook. As for being gay? Phhfft. At best, it would have been expected that I suppress such feelings and marry a woman. At worst, I'd probably have ended up arrested in a public bathroom for "indecency" and sent to prison.

Today, I enjoy the privilege of not worrying about such things. Indeed, there are times when I don't even think about the privilege. Other times, I almost crumple with the knowledge that many generations of people -- black, white, gay, straight and others -- suffered and even died early, brutal deaths so that I can have this life today. People were enslaved and ripped apart from their families. Abolitionists were murdered. Gays were closeted and couldn't live a life of their choosing without serious repercussions. Many of these people -- too many -- never saw the light at the end of tunnel that was to come.

And so today the struggle continues. Turmoil engulfs the city of Baltimore. American citizens have to argue in front of judges for rights they should already have. And yet.... progress has been made. It's difficult to see the progress at such a time, but it is there. Should so many have had to sacrifice for it? No, not at all. It still angers me that that is so. But we are imperfect beings. We enter and leave this world imperfect, and the important part is what have we done to make ourselves a little less imperfect?

That is the question that has been asked and answered for countless generations, and it is the question that must be answered today, this week, and for the months, years, decades and centuries to come. Let us hope our answers are good and just.


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