Last week there was a popular meme on Facebook that asked, “Any of you wishing your grandkids could have grown up in the Fab fifties instead of these insane times?” Several of the Baby Boomers I know “liked” that, and I understood their outlook.
My 21-year old daughter didn’t, and she posted a thoughtful response to their sentiment that made me proud. She put into words what I’ve been feeling for a while. She even cited sources! It was longer than I have space for here, but I’d like to share the highlights with you.
First, she acknowledged the utopia that these folks were remembering: “Happy Days,” “Mayberry,” a booming middle class, parents who stayed married and supported a family on one income, peace in the streets. Then she explained why this illusion only works for straight white folks. Many members of her diverse friend group wouldn’t benefit from a flashback to the 1950s.
If you were African American in the ‘50s, you couldn’t eat, drink, or even use a public restroom anywhere you wished, and you had to carry a special green book to travel safely through the South. You certainly couldn’t safely have an interracial relationship; it was illegal in many states and could prove deadly in many more.
Can you imagine going on a college trip and remaining on the bus during the dinner stop because you feared the restaurant wouldn’t serve you? Fortunately, when this occurred, founding Danville Junior College President Mary Miller was a forward thinker who assured the student that she wouldn’t stop at a restaurant that wouldn’t serve all her students. True story.
Two of my daughter’s college roommates are members of the LGBTQ community. They could not have lived their lives openly in the ‘50s; it was illegal. To this day, their life choices aren’t fully accepted by the majority. They still face and fear violent opposition to their lifestyle in some circles. No, they wouldn’t wish themselves back to the ‘50s.
As females, my daughter and her friends see many things that weren’t that great in the ‘50s, from the clothes they could wear, to the organizations they could join, and the careers they could pursue. She and her friends are moving on to vet school, law school, and medical school — career choices that were not readily accessible to women in the ‘50s. They aren’t interested in getting their Mrs. degrees right now.
I look at female students in the criminal justice, agriculture and engineering programs here at Danville Area Community College and know that they wouldn’t have been in those seats in the ‘50s. These women wouldn’t want to return to a time when working in those careers wasn’t an option.
There’s comfort to be found in “Mayberry” for some people, but we can visit on nostalgia television without sending civilization backwards. You may have noticed there are no people of color in Mayberry or on “Happy Days.” There also were no LGBTQ, no one of the JewIsh faith, no female doctors, no couples childless by choice.
Reminiscence has its place, but you can’t make America great again by returning to a time when a person’s color, religion, sex, or sex life could set limits on their dreams — or life expectancy.
Mary Miller saw this college as offering a “chance for all” people to receive a college education — she specifically said “every person.” We live that philosophy at DACC today. Leave the ‘50s in photo albums where they belong. DACC delivers the future — for everyone.