Sinning rates on race, gender, faith keep declining

Nearly 300 people gathered at the Brown vs. Board of Education National Historical Site in Topeka Sunday to celebrate the 55th anniversary of the Supreme Court decision that declared racial segregation in the nation’s public schools to be unconstitutional.
This news will be received by many in today’s grandfather generation with a touch of wonder: Did our nation which puts such store on freedom, liberty and personal dignity really wait until 1954 — a third of the way into our lifetimes — before recognizing that segregating the races was against everything our nation stood for?
Why were all of the nation’s leaders between George Washington and Dwight David Eisenhower so craven and/or morally blind?
Yes, to our eternal shame, it did take that long. Worse yet, it was another generation before racial segregation in schools, restaurants, hotels and other places where people gather was truly ended and still longer before de facto segregation in housing began to disappear.
My generation has lived through a cultural revolution; a revolution that came to a peaceful conclusion in its political sphere with the election of Barack Obama last November. But we still will have battles to fight as long as the first thing people notice about a new person they meet is the color of his or her skin.
It is shameful that it was 178 years after the founding of the republic before the schools were opened to all races and discrimination in other areas began to be attacked. But, given that history, the progress made in moving toward racial equality over the past 55 years must be considered a remarkable triumph.
The same can be said of gender equality. Women moved into the work force and overcame barriers to the professions when they were sorely needed to do more of the nation’s work as 13 million American men traded jobs for uniforms in World War II. Still, women who first went to law school and became physicians in the 1940s and ’50s risked being considered unfeminine and encountered demeaning discrimination in the workplace. They have since shattered the glass ceiling in the business world and enjoy full equality in the professional world. The only blemish to this picture is that U.S. women still earn on average 80 percent of their male counterparts.
Again, we oldsters have lived through a complete reversal of social values.

THE GOOD news continues: When John F. Kennedy ran for president in 1960 anti-Catholicism reared its ugly head and memories of Ku Klux Klan violence flared. Perhaps his presidency and the sympathy evoked by his senseless assassination did much to mitigate religious discrimination.
Religious differences still mar our social and political landscape. Mitt Romney was opposed by many only because of his Mormon faith. Mike Huckabee lost support because of his fundamentalist Christian beliefs. Muslim candidates face a rough road. But the U.S. religious scene is rarely spoiled by violence today as it once was and religious tolerance seems to be growing, however slowly.
It is not that the world is getting better and better, every day in every way. Utopia remains around the corner. It is, instead, that in the past five and one-half decades we have become better, much better, in these three ways — and that is cause for celebration and hope.

— Emerson Lynn, jr.