The opening of today’s discussion piece – in which Jacobsen encouraged us to remember that the 1790 Naturalization Act’s use of the phrase “free white persons,” while unfathomably exclusive today, was quite a progressive and inclusive group at the time – made me think about how historical perspectives influence our thinking today. As I said in class, it is very hard for me to hear the words of Thomas Jefferson and Benjamin Franklin, two of my American history class heroes, in such a derogatory fashion toward people of color. But then I think about the progression of time, and how attitudes change along with it. Jefferson, for example, simply did not believe that blacks were at all comparable to whites as far as being human beings. But then I think about Plessy v. Ferguson, and the “separate but equal” doctrine of the 1860s – 1960s; the abolition of slavery was seen at the time as hugely progressive, and the vast sentiment at this time may have seen disgust similar to mine with the words of this Founding Father. With the benefit of hindsight, though, we look back on the Jim Crow area with disgust for the treatment of non-white people, as well.
These thoughts make me wonder what the social injustices of our time will be considered to be in the future, the ones which our grandchildren see as so obviously “right.” I think about the issues I see with decades past and question how my grandparents didn’t see how unjust they were and try to change things, but also worry I am behind the curve in modern day like they were. I see many injustices in our world today, but none as glaring as, for example, slavery – and yet, this was the norm and widely accepted in America for so many years. I wonder what we will someday look back upon, thinking, “How could we have been so blind?”