Recently I saw The Butler, a brilliant film about an African American man who served the White House for 34 years. The film is set to the background of the civil rights movement and several defining events in American politics. The film is one that is thought provoking and demonstrates the brutality that was America’s history with the African American people.
When we look back on this brutality now, we see it as just that. It makes us feel shame that this generation allowed such injustice and that people legitimately thought that their behaviour was acceptable. We look at things like the torching of the Freedom Bus, the lynchings in the South, and the slavery that persisted long before that and are horrified. In our modern society most people think that prejudice such as this is unacceptable and we wouldn’t dream of doing such things. When someone or something slips through the cracks, we as a society cry out in shame. People around the world protested the imprisonment of Nelson Mandela, and cried out for the end of Apartheid. When Amadou Diallo was shot at by police an astonishing 41 times because police thought his wallet was a gun, we were outraged. Bruce Springsteen wrote American Skin (41 Shots) in response asking: “Is it a gun, is it a knife, is it a wallet? This is your life”. Similarly this year people world wide took to the streets and social media with “Justice for Trayvon” when George Zimmerman, a neighbourhood watch volunteer for a gated community, was acquitted at his murder trial after fatally shooting Martin.
In Australia we do not escape shame either. We as a nation are guilty of similar crimes against our Indigenous Australians. At the beginning of this country the English dispossessed these people of their land and perpetrated acts of violence and hate. As time went on the government was responsible for the Stolen Generations. Here, Aboriginal children were removed from their families, from their cultures and their homes and taught to be white. While today our focus in on reconciliation, and former Prime Minister Kevin Rudd apologised on behalf of the past governments for this act of cruelty and attempted genocide, racial tensions in this country are certainly different than that of the United States. We disrupted a culture, and it takes time for things that are lost to be recovered; and sadly, some things never can be. But in general, most people believe that equality and reconciliation is important, and racially motivated violence is spoken out against.
When we look back at the generation before ours, we look at them with some sense of discomfort, with disappointment, with shame. We ask how they could have allowed this? How could they believe this was right? But the current generation is at a crossroads. We too will be judged one day by history, by our children and grandchildren. A number of issues stand out at the moment, particularly in Australia. One that comes to mind is gay marriage. The LGBT community has suffered too, they have been the victims of prejudicial hate and violence, of exclusion and ostracism. Films such as Philadelphia have demonstrated this. Like racial prejudice, in recent years society has become more accepting of this community. People feel safer in being openly and proudly homosexual, and so they should. But this kind of prejudice being wrong is not as universally agreed on as racial prejudice. This is demonstrated by the fact that in many first-world countries homosexual marriage is not allowed, and in many third-world countries homosexuality is punishable by death. Christianity and the sanctity of marriage have been given as common reasons for this lack of legality. Though I am a religious person, I also believe in the separation of church and state. I don’t use my religion as an excuse for hate, because it tells me that I am loved and am forgiven as long as I have faith and seek forgiveness. I am told that all people are loved, not some people and so I see no reason why homosexuality or homosexual marriage is wrong. I respect the opinions of others who disagree, because everyone is entitled to their opinion. But my religion is private and I don’t bring it into politics, it has no place there. And it has no place here, in this issue.
We are at a crossroads as a generation, and we can be on the right side of history. How do you want to be remembered by history? Do you want your children and grandchildren to remember our generation, with shame, as we did the generation before us? Or with pride, because we made right this wrong. Do we want to be the generation that denied people equal rights, threw away our role in saving the environment, and turned away from those crying out for help? Look at our country, look at our government and consider what side of history you want us to be on. I personally want my children and grandchildren to be proud of me, because their world is a better place to live in because of something we did. That we made a difference that had real consequences for people.
So how do you want to be remembered?