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David Hines [userpic]

on opportunity

August 6th, 2008 (09:15 pm)

The NEW YORK TIMES magazine story on whether or not Obama represents the end of black politics contains one of the most heartfelt, heartbreaking quotes I've ever run across.

Elijah Cummings, the former chairman of the Congressional Black Caucus and an early Obama supporter, told me a story about watching his father, a South Carolina sharecropper with a fourth-grade education, weep uncontrollably when Cummings was sworn in as a representative in 1996. Afterward, Cummings asked his dad if he had been crying tears of joy. "Oh, you know, I’m happy," his father replied. "But now I realize, had I been given the opportunity, what I could have been. And I’m about to die."

The disadvantaged suffer something that the dead don't: if you live long and get lucky, you get to see people do things that you never dreamed were possible, and now only know you'll never do. And -- this is the killer -- *they think it's normal.*

Maybe it's part of being young: I only thought that people would take joy in that. Until I'd read the story about Elijah Cummings's father, I didn't think about how much it'd hurt.

(This reaction to an undreamed future seems like something science fiction should have explored, but I'm racking my brain a bit on this one. From Edward Bellamy's LOOKING BACKWARD on, folks from the benighted past have been portrayed as reacting to future utopias with delight and eager acceptance. Vernor Vinge's RAINBOW'S END takes the other view, where the rejuvenated, formerly incomprehending protagonist is deeply uncomfortable and alienated by the technological and social developments that the people of his new present take for granted or think are really nifty, but that's not the same thing at all.)


Posted by: Maire (mkcs)
Posted at: August 7th, 2008 02:02 am (UTC)

On a much smaller scale, every time I'm in a discussion of our government's student loan scheme and people are talking about whether it might be a good idea for our society to go back to having free educations available, you get at least one of my generation (the first to have to borrow money to pay university fees, here, in a very long time) saying 'I don't see why today's kids should get it free when I had to pay for it. It wouldn't be fair.'

I'm not really at all sure how my having a huge debt relates to whether it's a good idea for other people to have to borrow, but it's a very common belief.

Posted by: Maire (mkcs)
Posted at: August 7th, 2008 02:04 am (UTC)

I'm also strongly reminded of the difficulty of talking with my mother about why I'm not happy at how much my career has had to go on hold while I have a small child.

She took 15 years off full-time paid work when her kids were small. She didn't have paid work at all for some years.

I took all of three months out of the paid workforce. It's not a criticism of her actions, but it's really, really easy to feel like I'm criticising her.

Posted by: Luce Red (issen4)
Posted at: August 7th, 2008 03:07 am (UTC)

I think Lois McMaster Bujold calls it 'negative nostalgia' - a milder form of what you were saying.

Posted by: Niall Harrison (coalescent)
Posted at: August 7th, 2008 07:42 am (UTC)

This reaction to an undreamed future seems like something science fiction should have explored,

I can't offhand think of anything that deals with specific political/social issues in the way the bit you quote does, but Ian MacLeod's "New Light on the Drake Equation" is about an old man who can't come to terms with the future he's living in, as opposed to the one that science fiction promised him. (The prose version of Damn Scientists, if you will.)

Posted by: David Hines (hradzka)
Posted at: August 19th, 2008 11:54 am (UTC)

Thanks for the ref; that's a terrific story. (Could've used some trimming.:) )

Posted by: Niall Harrison (coalescent)
Posted at: August 20th, 2008 09:37 pm (UTC)

Yeah, I really like it. But equally, yeah, just about everything MacLeod writes could use a little trimming!

Posted by: cyano (cyano)
Posted at: August 7th, 2008 01:12 pm (UTC)

I have been a firm believer that my dad's parents would have lead completely different lives, had the culture been different at the time.

Grandma Yano would have been a Horticulturalist, as it was she was allowed to major in Home Ec or Education. (she picked Home Ec.)

Grandpa Yano went to Penn for Architecture. Too bad no one bothered to tell him they wouldn't let him into the Guild if he wasn't White. He became a General Contractor.

And they were lucky enough to even get in, though Grandma paid her own way, and Grandpa got a full scholarship for being an International Student (even though he was born here, and was a full US Citizen... noone else applied for it.)

During the depression, he had work in the laundry room of a flop house, (fresh sheets=$1, flipped over once=$.50, fliped twice=$.25) and he also washed women's 'rags' there.

My definition of progress.... My worst job to survive (setting up holiday decor for malls and office buildings), still leaps and bounds better than my Grandpa's worst job.

Posted by: cmar_wingnut (cmar_wingnut)
Posted at: August 7th, 2008 09:33 pm (UTC)

I can completely understand the mixture of pride in his son's accomplishment and a painful regret and envy at what might have been for that man. It *can* be a generational thing - older people wish they'd had the benefit of changes for the better that came too late for them, while younger people take that change for granted.

*is old*

Posted by: Corgi, Hound of the Internet (sff_corgi)
Posted at: August 18th, 2008 08:10 pm (UTC)


Posted by: David Hines (hradzka)
Posted at: August 19th, 2008 11:53 am (UTC)
Re: [irrelevancy]

*poke back* Howdy!

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