Have I Wasted the Civil Rights Legacy?

On the eve of the March on Washington, a writer asks if she's made the most of hard-fought victories.

Generic image (Thinkstock)
Generic image (Thinkstock)

And yet, I didn’t feel good. Successor’s guilt wouldn’t let me. I felt as if I and, by some extension, the suburban-raised end of my generation were “soft.” Our parents and grandparents had gone through so much more, and here I needed anti-depressants and mood stabilizers to get through my days.

“We’re wasting it,” my friend-in-guilt would tell me over the phone as we talked about gun violence or the various celebrations of ignorance passing as entertainment. “We wasted it all.”

But were we really mad at reality television or gangbangers? We, after all, said, “we,” by extension adding ourselves to those who had “wasted” this opportunity given to us.

We were standing on the shoulders of giants and slipping off, falling into uncertainty.

Today there are many successful black figures. There are athletes and entertainers and Oprah and the president of the United States. But underneath those who did make it, there are the multitudes who did not. And what becomes of them? What does it mean?

I asked my father a stupid question once. I asked him if I had been a disappointment. He told me that if I thought he thought I was a disappointment, that wasn’t coming from him. That there wasn’t anyone in the family who felt that way. That it was me putting unnecessary expectations on myself, when my father’s only dream for me was happiness.

My friend-in-guilt also turned to his family with similar statements and was told to stop comparing himself to his grandfather and great-grandfather. It was killing him, for one, to do so, and second, he was told it wasn’t a contest.

Our parents, to the contrary of our perceived decadence and weakness, explained to us that love doesn’t work that way. That they and those before them had fought hard so their children could have what they and so many others had not had.

A choice.

Our parents explained that they’d built a sturdy foundation for us. And that if we fell, they would pick us up again. Because a parent’s love and a movement’s dream is a love and a movement unconditional, a hope unconditional for a better future. And successor’s guilt or not, we were part of this, and we were told to not be ashamed. Our today was someone else’s dream; the only way we could squander it would be if we refused to live it. If we opted for shame and despair over hope and ambition.

So my friend-in-guilt and I are really trying to accept that, to accept slipping and then climbing back on. Let’s hope this time we stay there.

Danielle C. Belton is a freelance journalist and TV writer, founder of the blog blacksnob.com and editor-at-large of Clutch magazine. 

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