Wednesday, May 18, 2011

"Hello, my name is not Sunshine."

Yesterday, I got into an argument with a friend. I've always respected her for her intelligence, her analytical ability, her spunk, and her awesome 'fro. The way she is always challenging the ideas that she and the people around her hold close to their hearts is a trait of which I am deeply envious, but I can't pretend it doesn't create friction from time to time. She has recently become even more interested in black activism, and has been giving presentations about hair & black identity, and other interesting stuff like that. In a show of support, I playfully suggested that we find a time machine and go back to the sixties, so she could experience the Civil Rights movement and then we could swing by Woodstock for me.

That really pissed her off, for reasons that she then decided to detail.

She noted that I would have been treated much better than she would have, which is why the Civil Rights movement needed to happen in the first place. The heroes of that time period did what they did so that in the next millennium she could live fear-free, as she does. Respectable & more than valid; I agree entirely.

Another of her reasons, though, was that she feels that anyone who wishes to live in a different time period suffers from an “overly patriotic, white washed” and “limited” perspective gleaned from Euro-centric textbook representations. This is where I felt the need to disagree and express what it is about the sixties that draws me like it does. It's not what you might expect.

I am more than willing to admit that I am an idealist, and not just when it comes to the past. Part of what I do idolize about the sixties is the fashion, the drugs, the youth culture. I like to imagine that there were more people then who would understand me. I often wish for warm-bodied spontaneity, which in my imagination existed in a much higher quantity before the Internet became a household time-sucker. I wish more people around me understood the spiritual and philosophical nature of my drug use, instead of judging me as somebody who's just looking for kicks. I crave a community of care-free youth like me, which I imagine existed in abundance in the 1960s. I know that it's unrealistic, but that's why it's a dream.

But I'm not stupid. I know that the sixties wasn't groovy all around: not everybody upped 'n' changed their name to sunshine. Some serious stuff was happening, some good and some bad. The Civil Rights movement, the Vietnam draft, the moon landing. The government was redefining its relationship with the American people. We were literally rocketing into the future. In a vital way, the culture of the hippies was a reaction to these things, which has not been lost on me. The commitment of the youth to wildness, rebellion, and fun was an almost hysterical retaliation to the inescapable fear of nuclear destruction. In a way, what I long for are those times that are less complacent, less sure. This was a pivotal time in America for a variety of reasons, all of which interest me. Not to mention Star Trek. :)

However, I agree with my friend on one important point: as long as I'm here at the beginning of the new millennium, there's still quite a bit of stuff for activists like me and my friend to do. Now interracial couples can get married, but homosexuals can't. Blacks and women, though we can vote & hold down jobs, still have social attitudes to correct and understanding to create. I know I belong in this time and that I've got work to do, but that doesn't mean that I keep my bell-bottoms and my freak flag in my drawer, no?

The thing the sixties did was to show us the possibilities and the responsibility that we all had. It wasn't the answer. It just gave us a glimpse of the possibility.

-John Lennon


  1. From the Fro-friend:


    The goal of my email was to bring us closer through a new observation and I am ecstatic that your response has now completed this wish; and the exciting give and take between us continues.

    I would also like you to know I'm not anti-bell bottom. :P I respect the sixties, I respect the past, and as you know, my email concentrated on the need to respect the diverse American experiences that took and take place.

    To know, as you now do, the anger that can be provoked in people that do not share the same vision as you, and whose perspective has long been erased or ignored for a white normative citizen (whose supposed embodiment of the American experience excludes and devalues all points of view that do not fit within its limits).

    Surrounded by a community whose population has happily and at times in their suburban isolation appeared doomed to absorb this white privilege, I am sensitive to the exclusion of the non-white/non-privileged (because one has a choice to recognize and reject this impediment) perspective.

    The exclusion of this perspective is mostly unintentional as many people here were never exposed to it. So I inform, and I cannot expect to have close friends when I do not explain my feelings especially when I am irked.

    We would not be having this conversation if you were insensitive to diverse voices; and this conversation would be not a give and take if I did not learn too. I now have a better understanding of your deep and complex love for the sixties. I do not wish to attack this, in fact are we not sisters in it, with your freak flag, and my afro? I am proud that my hair has a historical background in empowerment, and I would never support the destruction of a harmless cultural text.

    I would not be who I am today if it weren’t for essays written in the sixties.

    Thus my concerns do not lay with if we should respect the time or not. My email and my comment now is trying to create an understanding for those that might not be as eager or optimistic as you to hope for “understanding” or “warm bodied spontaneity.”

    My mother was born 1958. Her girlhood was spent in the sixties, much of which she remembers. Being black (or any non-white) in the south in the 1960s was not easy; it is an inspiration for hate and violence, a victim cannot hide.

    So when I think of what my personal situation in the 60s would be like as black, bisexual and feminist, I know I would have few allies, and thousands of enemies. I would even be ostracized from many civil rights circles because of the “threat” posed by my feminism and sexuality. There would be friends in the like minded women and men I could find, but my circle would be small. So when I look around at my present circle which is already tiny, I cannot entertain the same hope for a “care-free” community as you.

    I have no ill will with your day dreams for acceptance as I relate to that loneliness; and I also know that your dreams like mine do not stop you from recognizing and remaining well educated in reality.

    However understand that my decline to time travel is not an attack on your fantasy, it comes from a different perspective (one that I often find myself attacked through when people ignore it).

    Just as our realities here have variations, we turn to the sixties and have different feelings, because we are greeted with different visions.

  2. "I wish more people around me understood the spiritual and philosophical nature of my drug use, instead of judging me as somebody who's just looking for kicks."

    Same here! Well, most people who know me have an easy time believing that my drug use isn't for kicks, but I do with they really understood more about how spiritual and philosophical it actually is.

    I don't like to judge people who DO do it for kicks, but I wish society as a whole was more ready to understand and accept that for some people it's deeper than that.


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