Persis and the Problem of Perspective
If I could chose any decade in which to be a young adult, it would be the 1940s. Glenn Miller and his "String of Pearls," a real man like Humphrey Bogart who could give it and take it, sultry Lauren Bacall who knew how to whistle, profane General Patton who could win, Admiral Bull Halsey, Winston Churchill, hotel dining rooms, sleeping compartments on trains, a "good war," national purpose and unity to defeat two common enemies, black and white movies, Casablanca, soldiers in uniforms, stylish women in fur coats, sophisticated men in suits. To engage in this fantasy I have to block out a lot of things - like the depression which got worse till the beginning of the War, the blood and gore of battles in the European and Pacific theatres, the segregated armed services, the Jim Crow south, the Japanese internment camps, the hostility toward German Americans, the men who never came home unless it was to be reburied after the war ended.
It's the curse of old men like me to romanticize, idealize, misremember, and normalize the past. The past becomes the good old days, so much better than the present. I can't really remember the 40s, so for me the good old days would have to be the 50s and 60s.
Only the 60s weren't so good. There was good - hormone driven youth, the beach, some friendships that have lasted, dragging the main, parking behind the Martines' sign, the Pensacola Theological Institute, love that parents couldn't suppress nor many waters could quench. But then: hippies with flowers in their hair; acid in their brains, and free love in the parks; civil rights, street riots, and murders in Philadelphia, MS; political and societal unrest and a sexual revolution; the draft, deferments, lottery numbers; high school and Sunday school classmates whose names would eventually be on that Wall, God is dead, the generation gap.
I tend to think that the 60s are the decade when things started to go to hell.
But that brings me to Persis Lorenti and her Blog, "The Not-So-Good-Old Days" which was republished at the Aquila Report where I read it. Persis seems to have come to look at American culture and history through glasses which focus on those she calls "the privileged class" who are the only ones for whom the old days were good. It is the curse of people who have come to analyze history and culture through filters of "privilege" and "oppression" to see both everywhere.
If you go back before the 2nd wave of feminism, this was prior to the 1965 Immigration Act. It would have been extremely difficult and perhaps impossible for members of my family to immigrate and become American citizens. I can’t speak for my African American brothers and sisters, but have you ever asked them if they, their parents, or grandparents considered Jim Crow the good old days?
The Victorian era ideal has been passed down through the years as the standard for Christian women. Who would have been able to devote themselves to full-time domesticity? Only the privileged white upper and growing middle class, and this was only made possible by female slaves or servants. Again ask your African American brothers and sisters if they thought these were the good old days.
The Victorian era was the time when the 1882 Chinese Exclusion Act was pased. Chinese men were permitted visas as cheap labor. Women were denied entry because the last thing Americans wanted was for Chinese to marry, have families, and, God forbid, become citizens. We were considered unassimilable and denied citizenship because we weren’t white. In a time of economic hardship, we were blamed for taking away jobs from the “real” Americans. The Chinese population was eventually driven from the country in 1882. You may think that this was in the distant past, and I am just over-reacting to the white supremacist rally in Charlottesville. Read the rhetoric coming from the leaders of the anti-Chinese movement. It sounds the same to me.There seem to be at least three things are at work here: (1) As a Christian woman Persis feels oppressed by the adoption of "the Victorian era ideal...as the standard for Christian women." (2) As a person of Chinese ethnic descent, she feels aggrieved by the United States' treatment of the Chinese during the Victorian era in regard to limitations on immigration for those in China and of discrimination toward those who were here. (3) As a woman and a Chinese person, she identifies with African Americans who had been slaves and who lived under Jim Crow in the Victorian era.
She is clearly wrong about some things:
(1) "Who would have been able to devote themselves to full-time domesticity? Only the privileged white upper and growing middle class, and this was only made possible by female slaves or servants." But there was a time when "full-time domesticity" was common among all classes of people, and it was not the privilege only of those who had slaves or servants. There were plenty of families in which the man worked and provided for his family, and the wife stayed home and "kept house," caring for the children, cooking meals and cleaning house without the yet to be invented electric tools and appliances. These women had full time domestic jobs. My maternal grandfather worked for the Standard Oil distributor, sometimes doing office work, other times driving a truck and delivering products. My grandmother washed his clothes in a wringer washing machine, starched his uniforms which dried on a clothesline, ironed those heavily starched cotton pants and shirts, cooked a full meal for them to eat at noon when he came home for "dinner," raised my mother, polished furniture, grew flowers, picked up and shelled pecans, killed chickens and put them in the freezer. You can say all that was bad, but it certainly was not the life of a privileged class.
But let me ask this about Victorian values and domesticity: Where is any serious minded American Christian advocating Victorianism? For one thing, it would ruin their sex lives.
(2) Yes, the Chinese were not allowed to immigrate for a very long time, and those here often experienced discrimination. It's legitimate to ask, prejudice aside, whether there was not a legitimate concern about how quickly and efficiently America could assimilate the Chinese. But today, in the case of the Chinese, it has to be asked, "What has any of that to do with now except to manufacture a present grievance from a past offense?" The Chinese in the U.S. today are the largest group of those classed Asians. And Asians, according to Pew:
... are the highest-income, best-educated and fastest-growing racial group in the U.S, with Asians now making up the largest share of recent immigrants. A Pew Research survey finds Asian Americans are more satisfied than the general public with their lives, finances and the direction of the country, and they place a greater value on marriage, parenthood, hard work and career success.I do not know Ms. Lorenti, but I would guess there is a good chance she not only belongs to a privileged group but herself shares in those privileges to a greater extent than Caucasian Americans.
(3) Yes, slavery and segregation were evils. Sadly the end of both has not brought about the improvement in the lives African Americans which we might have expected. In some moral matters which have an impact on society, things have got worse. Dr. Thomas Sowell writes:
Nearly a hundred years of the supposed “legacy of slavery” found most black children being raised in two-parent families in 1960. But thirty years after the liberal welfare state found the great majority of black children being raised by a single parent.
The murder rate among blacks in 1960 was one-half of what it became 20 years later, after a legacy of liberals’ law-enforcement policies. Public-housing projects in the first half of the 20th century were clean, safe places, where people slept outside on hot summer nights, when they were too poor to afford air conditioning. That was before admissions standards for public-housing projects were lowered or abandoned, in the euphoria of liberal non-judgmental notions. And it was before the toxic message of victimhood was spread by liberals. We all know what hell holes public housing has become in our times. The same toxic message produced similar social results among lower-income people in England, despite an absence of a “legacy of slavery” there.Dr. Walter Williams writes:
In 1940, 86 percent of black children were born inside marriage, and the illegitimacy rate among blacks was about 15 percent. Today, only 35 percent of black children are born inside marriage, and the illegitimacy rate hovers around 70 percent. Today's breakdown of the black family is unprecedented. It began in the 1960s with the War on Poverty...
Blacks hold high offices and dominate the political arena in Philadelphia, Detroit, Baltimore, Washington, D.C., New Orleans and other cities. Yet these are the very cities with the nation's most rotten schools, highest crime rates, high illegitimacy rates, weak family structure and other forms of social pathology. I am not saying that blacks having political power is the cause of these problems. What I am saying is that the solution to most of the major problems that confront many black people won't be found in the political arena...Why have things not got better? Drs. Sowell and Williams lay much blame at the feet of the welfare state. I do not doubt they are right.
But, I think there is another contributor. It is multi-culturalism. Multi-culturalism not only posits that all cultures have value and can contribute to the common culture but that all cultures are equal. Until recently the United States was a Western country. It's predominant culture was western civilization (modified and enriched by others). Public schools were the effective conveyors of this civilization, along with patriotism, and thus the means of assimilating various national and ethnic groups to a common American culture. The big issue to today is not color or race (though grievance promoters say so) but culture. To believe that that western civilization is superior to any intellectual and cultural tradition yet produced by mankind, and the most influenced by Christianity, is not racism. It's culturalism and the obvious truth.