Wednesday, December 17, 2008

The past is not the present

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

I have an interesting memory.

When I was in primary school, I attended a Catholic school. There were two rooms, one for grades one through four and another for five through eight.

One thing about that school is that it was more open than the public schools. We had a black family in the school, and that was in a town I would call very prejudiced though I didn't know it at the time.

Anyway, we did a play one time. There was a Negro butler in the play, and I got the part, all made up in blackface. I suppose the part was supposed to be humorous. This is the truth. The nun who supervised the play had no idea what she had done or what she was doing. She was a wonderful person. She just lived in a different time than we do now.

When we presented the play, those black parents stormed backstage, and I watched my father going back too. He was the great conciliator. He had a way of getting people to talk to one another and to work things out in fair and just ways. And if he could, he did it at the time. It wasn't easy for him, but that's the way he dealt with life.

I have no idea what happened backstage after that play. Everyone involved was very careful not to put the children into the middle of the problem. But whatever it was, everyone was made more sensitive to race issues. Believe me, they were.

I thought about this the other day as I watched a Roy Rogers movie. I'm looking at a lot of movies and TV shows now in preparation for writing the third Roy Rogers book. There were blacks and slaves in the movie, and they were, to a large extent, stereotypes.

I always remember Roy Rogers' appearance in Bob Hope's Son of Paleface
. That movie really bothers me for its portrayal of native Americans. My Roy watches that movie in the second Roy Rogers mystery, The Body on the Hospital Landing. And my Roy has some strong feelings about it.

But we can't expect the past to be the present. Just as that good nun made a mistake, was insensitive to, but not uncaring for, blacks, so Roy and Dale lived in another time. The way the movies of their time portrayed blacks and native Americans is not excusable, but it was a part of the culture of the time. We now live in a culture where the one who leads us come January will be a man of mixed race. And some people still hate him. We've come a long way, but not all the way.

The past is not the present. We can't expect most people living in 1950's to be as sensitive to race and other issues as most people are now. Roy Rogers and Dale Evans were wonderful Christian people who lived their faith in a way that is an example for us all. Most of all they loved and cared for hurting children. That's so special to me.

So I'm not going to impose 2008 standards on them back in the 1950's. I'm going to accept them as they are, thank God for them, and know that if they had been in their prime today they would have had some different attitudes.

The past is not the present. Sometimes I revel in my memories of the past, but I'm glad I live in the present world where caring nuns would not put their young students in blackface for a school play.


PS Do you have stories in your own life of how the past is not the present? I'd love to hear them.


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