I grew up in a house where it was absolutely forbidden to use any racial slur. My mother, a German immigrant, worked as a parent counselor at Head Start in the mid-70s. Her office was in the middle of the black housing project, and segregation was still firmly in place, even in northern Ohio, where I grew up. My mother was not afraid to be there. She loved the families she was working with. I can remember her knitting hats and gloves for hundreds of children. We helped her by making the pom-poms that went on top of the hats. She made friends with her co-workers, who were mostly black, and they would come over for lunch sometimes. This all seemed perfectly normal to me. When I went to high school, which was much less segregated, I had black friends, too. That’s when I learned how people really felt. Most of the white friends that I had known since kindergarten shunned me for having real black friends. I was shocked and hurt, but honestly, I dropped them like hot potatoes because I knew that there was absolutely nothing wrong with my ability to see a nice person and become friends with them. I have never looked back.
My mother, who was born in 1943 in Germany, taught us the truth about the holocaust—the long history of dehumanization and injustice of Jews in Europe. She also learned and taught us about institutionalized racism in America. We learned about lack of access to financing and property ownership, unequal educational opportunities and how the tax base pays for school and that poor neighborhoods get much less funding. I could see the inequalities. We were not wealthy. We started out living in a duplex and eventually moved into our own home with both of my parents working. But still, I could see the different life and challenges that black people faced. I could see that they were closely monitored by the authorities. When I was shopping with my black friends, we were always followed around the store. Not so when I was with other white people.
All in all though, growing up in the 60s and 70s was a time of hope in my eyes; the eyes of a child. I remember the words of hope. Civil rights were the focus of the news and the Supreme Court. Desegregation went into effect. People were out protesting against war. I learned about climate change and how we could combat it. I was hopeful… but as the years passed and the outlook changed and apathy set in, I started to feel the sadness of disillusionment. Year after year, decade after decade the focus was on achieving wealth, but leaving so many behind. The pursuit was for money and shiny things, not peace, not justice. Could that be changing?
How often I have rolled my eyes at the superficiality of the Millennials and the Zoomers. I am on the tail end of the Boomers. Well, I am feeling hopeful. I see people standing up for justice that is so long overdue. Could there be more on the horizon? Could we demand peace and equality for all people and respect for our planet? This Boomer is hopeful that the Zoomers will continue to find their power and their voice, and breathe hope back to life.