Today is the 150th anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation. Which, despite what you learned in school did not free the slaves. It freed the slaves in states that had seceded from the Union. Slavery was still legal in the North. But, what it did do was put a clear focus on the Civil War. Freedom became a rallying cry. Blacks were given clear rights, equal to those of white men. By the end of the war slavery was gone. That lasted … oh, a couple of years. Then the Morrill Act of 1890 came along and said blacks were just as equal as anybody else as long as they didn’t clutter up white businesses or schools. That was a ruling that reinforced the famous “separate but equal” laws in 17 states. The narrow window of equality was closed. Yes segregation was eventually outlawed and, yes, we have made progress since those days. The successes of everyone from Nat King Cole to President Obama prove that. But we still have a long way to go.
Prepare to be offended if you click that link.
But legal rights and actual rights are not always the same things. There are still millions of people who assume that skin color is the only true definition of ability. Not all of them are wearing hoods and burning crosses. I know a guy. Have known him for years. I see him pretty regularly. A couple of weeks ago he opined that his company was being forced to hire some more blacks or “face another damn lawsuit.” You could have knocked me over with a feather. I had no idea he felt that way. Further conversation showed that thought to be the tip of the ice berg and made me rethink our friendship.
To sum it all up, he agrees with President Obama on several key issues but voted for the white guy because that is what a white guy should do.
That’s a lot more frightening thought process than I care to envision.
Yet the landscape of America is changing. Fears of a Christian Theocracy fade further and further into the distance as our population becomes more and more diverse. And, as history has proven, it’s very difficult to hate people you see every day. Hating blacks is easy. Any idiot can do that. But hating Bob, the guy who roots for the same teams you do, whose kids go to school with your kids, whose wife helped your wife through a tough morning sickness, is much trickier. Bob is a real person and not an abstraction.
When I was a kid I grew up around some family members who dropped the N-word liberally. If you’ll pardon the usage. But when I got older and got a job I found that the black people I worked with liked the Bears, the White Sox and, by God, they liked beer. Hell, they were just like me. It has been 35 years since I made that revelation and there are still family members who will not speak to me.
Life goes on.
And that’s the point. Young people have had black presidents on TV since the 80’s. They’ve had black entertainers and black role models and so on even longer. Since the mid 90’s the same can be said of gays, minus the whole president thing. But that’s coming. You just hang in there for a bit.
In other words we will soon live in a country where prejudice seems like a stupid relic. And that is as it should be.
Anyway, to help you get to know the world around you a little bit more, the nice people at IOL News, South Africa’s global news source, have provided us with a list of New Years Eve traditions from around the world.
The Mayan calendar ended and the world carried on. Now a new year looms and there are many traditions and myths that mark the change of the calendar in different parts of the world.
South America: People wear bright underwear to bring them good luck in the new year. Those looking for love opt for red while those seeking fortune wear yellow.
Denmark: The Danish throw their old plates at their friends’ and neighbours’ doors as a sign of good luck and friendship. Cleaning up isn’t much of a bother because the higher the stack the more friends one has. The Danes also leap off chairs at midnight to banish bad spirits from the New Year.
Germany and Austria: Molten lead is traditionally used to read the future. The lead is poured into a bowl of water and the various shapes formed by the lead are indications for the year ahead. A ball means luck across the year, an anchor foretells eventual need of help, while a cross spells death.
Ecuador: Ecuadorians celebrate the new year by gathering and burning portraits or something else that represents the previous year as a way to get rid of the past. Thousands of these fires light up the country on New Year’s Eve.
Philippines: Those hoping for more money in the new year can try the Filipino tradition of dressing in clothes with circular patterns like polka dots and eating circular food like grapes. The circular shape echoes the shape of coins and is meant to bring prosperity in the new year.
Germany: The British classic Dinner for One is usually screened during the festive season but the Germans have turned this into a tradition. It has become so popular that it even has its own catchphrase: “same procedure every year”.
Puerto Rico: Puerto Ricans literally wash away the old year by throwing buckets of water out of the window to clean out the old year. They also clean and decorate their homes.
Spain: At midnight, Spaniards try to consume a grape at each chime before the clocks stops chiming to bring in the new year. The “12 grapes of luck” tradition has been carried over to other Spanish-influenced countries like Mexico, the US and the Philippines.
Belarus: Unmarried women compete in games of skill and power to determine who will be the first to get married in the new year. One of the games involves setting piles of corn before each lovely lady. Whichever corn pile a rooster approaches first indicates the lady who will marry first.
Ireland: Another one for those single ladies: unmarried Irish women place mistletoe under their pillow in the hope of catching a man in the new year. The tradition is also believed to bring good luck.
Mexico and Chile: In Mexico, New Year’s Eve is considered the best time to communicate with dead spirits and convey messages, or ask for guidance. Chileans have a similar practice and set up chairs beside the graves of loved ones to bring in the new year together with their departed relatives and friends.
The Midnight Kiss: An old classic that is celebrated across the world is sharing a kiss with your sweetheart in order to ensure true love. This kiss is also believed to wash away the bad memories of the past and mark the beginning of a new year filled with love and happiness.
I can live with all of them. Hopefully you can too.
Happy New Year!