Perpetuity of Progress

Opinion: The Perpetuity of Progress

I’ve written ad nauseam about progressive issues for The Gavel. It’s not hard to find a topic to write about—it seems that the acts of violence, hypocrisy and even triumph now transpire on a weekly basis. This past week was no exception, with many notable and triumphant moments for the progressive movement.

I’ll skip the specifics; many others have written better and comprehensive pieces. Instead, I’m curious albeit circumspect about the context of progress in the past and into the future. People often talk of progress in terms of generations, describing it as the steady march of time, a human inevitability.

This march of progress, impeded by stalwarts and conservatives, is far too slow. But I’ve addressed that. And yet, in the case of gay marriage, the battle is often described as remarkably short. Just past the turn of the century it was first legalized in Massachusetts, and just over a decade later it has cleared the Supreme Court. This vast simplification is problematic on many accounts, but in a greater context society has shifted rapidly over a short time. The battle is far from over, and a multitude of protections are still absent for the LGBTQ community.

On the other hand, over 150 years since the end of slavery, black people across our nation still live in peril under the oppression of white supremacy. No longer as routinely visible as Jim Crow or the Klu Klux Klan, racism still manifests itself in unfair lending practices, voting laws, de facto segregated neighborhoods and disproportionate funding for social services.

How can we reconcile the gains for some members of the world community when people of color are massacred in churches and shot dead in the street by police? I have read many well-argued pieces stating that this rift is irreconcilable. But to not celebrate the gains of some does a disservice to the entire progressive movement. This movement is not a phase, and it has no end and no beginning. Its victories are not trophies to be savored; instead they should serve as sustenance to galvanize and reenergize a belief that transcends the social constructs of race, gender and ideology.

This belief is in a better humankind. A humankind that is fallible, yet capable of change. And each successive victory amidst the violence and hate proves this point. And yet how do we look on this march of progress?

It’s hard not to look with disdain upon the dissenting members of the Supreme Court in Thursday’s decision on gay marriage. Of particular disappointment (although not a surprise) was the dissent of Clarence Thomas. Recognizing that reasoning of the dissent could justify bans on interracial marriage, he brought in 1967’s Loving v. Virginia to attempt to argue that the case, which made interracial marriage legal, was never about marriage. The legal arguments are beyond my understanding, but there is something incredibly depressing about a man, whose own interracial marriage would have been illegal, half a century prior using case law to further a different type of discrimination.

It seems to me as nonsensical to ban gay marriage as it was to ban interracial marriage. And yet, a black justice chose to stand by an extremely similar form of discrimination. But such is the march of progress. It is rarely glamorous, often painful and full of hypocrisy. It is perpetuated by those who more often than not remain nameless, and publicized by those who we remember. I try my best to be an ally, an anti-racist and open to new ideas. But I wonder at what point I will join the “older generation,” unwilling to change with the times, and in my current judgment, worthy of disdain.

I don’t ever want to be that person, the uncle/grandfather/friend whose “jokes” are just streams of micro aggressions and insensitive remarks. The excuse for those people today is that they grew up in a different time, and I’m sure that was the same for the generation before. This leads me to wonder—what will the “different time” be for my generation? Will I be unable to accept the new standards?

I don't know the answer to that question, but I don't think it really matters. Who I will be in 20, 30 or 40 years is uncertain. What is certain is that the march of progress will continue, because it is indefatigable. Some of its victories have been quick, others the result of decades long battles. But in each case, past, present or ongoing, progression has won.

This victory is a testament to the constant struggle that those who are oppressed engage in, often far from the TV cameras or journalists. But these struggles turn to victories because a society that is more open, more loving and more equitable is unambiguously a better society. And so, I shouldn’t look with fear towards the future, nor should we detract from victories today because of different losses tomorrow. Instead, we must keep marching for progress, and the promise of a better future ahead.

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