South

Beverly Beckham

Comparing today with the ’60s

Michelle Obama is not Jacqueline Kennedy, but Obama shows that equality, opportunity, and inclusion have happened, and that’s all for the better.
Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images
Michelle Obama is not Jacqueline Kennedy, but Obama shows that equality, opportunity, and inclusion have happened, and that’s all for the better.

It’s helpful to make a list. You know, pros and cons. Should we go on a want-but-don’t-need vacation or pave the rutted driveway? Lease a new car or buy a used one? Side the house or paint it?

Lists let you see the facts up close. You don’t have to heed what you see — who really cares about a driveway? — but it’s good to make the list anyway.

For weeks, I’ve been mentally compiling a pro-con list about life today compared with life in the 1960s. Why? Because every time I go on Facebook, I find some new post about this country being so much better in the ’60s.

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Most of these posts are nostalgic and harmless, full of memories of gimp braids and Black Jack gum. The most recent, however, stunned me because it was racist: a black-and-white photo of Jackie Kennedy dressed in a dark dress and pearls, smiling demurely, next to an unflattering color shot of Michelle Obama in a blue top, her bare right armed raised, her mouth open in a shout. The caption: “What happened America?”

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What happened America? Equality happened. Opportunity happened. Inclusion happened. Change happened.

I loved the 1960s. Of course I did. In 1960, I was a kid. I had parents who took care of me, a two-wheeler, a best friend, and a steady baby-sitting job on Saturday nights.

This was my world, my small, insulated, I-would-give-up-my-under-eye-concealer-for-the-rest-of-my-life-if-I-could-go-back-for-just-a-day, good and perfect world.

But 1960 was not good for everyone.

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It was not good for the black people down the street, who lived just beyond my neighborhood, whose houses may as well have been in another state, we were that separate.

It was not good for my father and all the other fathers I knew who fought a war, came home, got married, worked two jobs, and still couldn’t afford a vacation beyond a couple of days in a motel in New Hampshire or Cape Cod every few years.

It was not good for my mother, who had only one child, when everyone else had many children, who worked instead of stayed home, who was different in 1960, before everything changed, before different was admired.

It was not good for my aunt, who couldn’t get married in the Catholic church because her husband was Protestant.

It was not good for girls and women who wanted careers, not marriage. It was not good for gay men and women. It was not good for teenage boys who would be drafted when the Vietnam War began. And it was certainly not good for people with disabilities.

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I think back to the early 1960s and don’t remember anyone with Down syndrome or Tourette’s or cerebral palsy or even polio. There was a girl who had a leg brace, and a man who made it back from Korea but never made it all the way back because he had post-traumatic stress disorder, which we called shell shock then. But that was it. All the children and adults who had a hard time walking or talking or learning or readjusting to life after war were put in institutions.

The ’60s were not good for girls and women who wanted careers, not marriage.

America was Northerners. Southerners. Black. White. Catholic. Protestant. Christian. Non-Christian. Irish. Italian. Men. Women. Blue collar. White collar. A solid white line divided us.

Sure, I could leave the house early on a summer morning and not come home until the street lights came on, and this was wonderful. In my mental ledger, it’s a big con that kids today don’t have this freedom, that they live in fear of predators and kidnappers.

But we lived in fear, too, of communism and a nuclear war.

What happened, America?

Wonderful things have happened since 1960. We live longer. We have cures for diseases that killed people 50 years ago. We travel more. We accept differences. We’re better educated. We have wider access to the world because of the Internet, which has brought us together.

Make a list and I bet you’ll see what I see, that life today is getting a bad rap.

Beverly Beckham can be reached at beverlybeckham@me.com.