By Oscar Mancinas
If you’ve spent any amount of time on social media,
you, for sure, have noticed two trends. The first involves people (specifically
those in their 20s) reminding you of some pop culture/political/social moment
or event that occurred [x] years ago. Usually a post like this is accompanied
by the caption “OMG! When did we a get so old? Time is just flying by! #washed”
or something to that degree.
The second trend, seemingly more
serious but as easily dismissible, nonetheless, is the side-by-side—sometimes
just a single image—showing a person or a group promoting or defending
inequality or injustice: think of photos of people protesting interracial
marriage or same-sex marriage or women’s rights or rights for black people or
any other civil rights movement. These photos are usually accompanied by a
caption like “How does it feel to know you’re on the wrong side of history?”
both trends are equally dismissible, and that’s a problem. Quarter-life crises
are the things rom-coms are made of, but relating our contemporary struggles
for equality to those of the past, that’s
something worth exploring. So why, then, is it so dismissible? The answer is
both simple and complex: there is no such thing as the wrong side of history.
say it again: There. Is. No. Such. Thing. As. The. Wrong. Side. Of. History.
is something we make up, and remake up. Like movies or memories, history
changes depending on who the viewers are and when they’re viewing it. Was
September 11, 2001 a day when the US united in the face of horrible violence
and terrorism? Or was September 11, 2001 a day where the US continued its trend
of singling out and systematically perpetuating violence on those who don’t
“fit the profile” of being “real Americans?” History should be exactly that:
paradoxical questions that complicate us as much as we complicate it.
can remember an instance when I was in the 8th grade and my history
teacher chastised me and a fellow student for speaking Spanish to one another
in class. Such behavior drew the ire of several educators and policy-makers
alike in Arizona because it was—and still is—seen as “un-American.” Our teacher
told us to knock it off, and I, being the smart-ass that I am, responded with
something like “Ah, come on. What’s the big deal? Technically Arizona used to be part of Mexico.” (A week or
so earlier, we’d wrapped up a unit about Manifest Destiny and the territory the
US “acquired” throughout the 19th Century).
was not amused. His face tightened a bit and, in a volume that wasn’t quite
yelling but also wasn’t just speaking, he said something to the degree of
“Well, it’s not anymore, is it? You lost the war, and so now this is the US,
and in the US we speak English. That’s history.” I went completely silent and
felt my face burn.
than ten years later—oh wow, has it really been over a decade?—I reflect on
this incident, and I don’t even know where to begin. “You lost,” not they, not The Mexican Army: you. You lost; you were wrong; you are on the wrong side of history. This is
not to single him out; in fact, I think that’s too often the problem with
conflicts: people seek a scapegoat, a bad egg, a glitch in the system—as though
the system itself weren’t designed to foster some glitches, or, at least, one
prominent glitch repeating itself in different forms.
I close out this piece, I want to remind the reader—as well as myself—of several,
seemingly, paradoxical traits about history:
because something has never happened before doesn’t mean it’s impossible, and
just because something happens all the time doesn’t mean it’s unstoppable.
suffrage, civil rights, voting rights for 18 year olds, the abolition of
slavery: none of these acts were approved by popular vote, but, rather, they
were products of collaboration between social groups and the government.
Jim Crow, land rights exclusively for men, the Defense of Marriage Act: these
also were not approved by popular vote, but, rather, were products of
collaboration between groups and the government.
I’ll leave you now with this article from NPR about
Bombing in Philadelphia in 1985, written by Gene Demby. What was the MOVE
Bombing? Great question! Read the piece and find not only what it is but also
why you may’ve not known about it. One line, in particular, that stuck with me
was when Demby writes “History gets commodified and redistributed much more
quickly today.” History is something we make
and remake and judge, it doesn’t make us nor does it judge us.