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.
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.