Colorado passes a civil unions bill, and Indiana is busy trying to write discrimination into the state constitution. Why are we living here instead of there?

It’s been a long time since we’ve been in touch. Are we a couple of slackers or what?! It’s not that we haven’t been busy reading, working, observing and thinking (uh oh!), and it’s certainly not that we didn’t want to share our opinions with our wonderful readers. In fact we weren’t sure why we’ve been so quiet until we realized how angry we were and that the anger forced us to be silent for awhile.

"Certainly it was a simpler time that conveyed a sense of personal safety and security."Angry at what, you say? Oh, just where to begin. Perhaps what really set the emotional storm clouds scudding across our own personal horizon was receipt of a couple of those seemingly harmless, wishful thinking e-mails we received from a well-intentioned friend who was all about returning to our childhood, nostalgia for the many western-themed TV shows and just how great the ‘50s were.

Sure, some of it was fun with a reminder of those wax bottles filled with colored sugar water or flying down the street on scooters or running around the neighborhood with all the kids and no parental supervision. We could even make up our own rules, and do-overs were an acceptable and easy way to resolve differences.

Certainly it was a simpler time that conveyed a sense of personal safety and security -- one in which the adults had all the answers, and while we kids had lots of questions, we knew better than to ask too many because there were so many things that just weren’t discussed. It would be too rude, the adults didn’t know the answer -- or, well it was one of those things that we just don’t talk about. There was a lot of the last.

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We acknowledge that for those who were fortunate to have a positive childhood, reminiscence is not a bad thing. But of course one’s own personal experience notwithstanding, some childhoods in the ‘50s just weren’t so great.
"That was part of the wonderful ‘50s, too. Denying reality and the truth."
We can’t imagine that any person of color would want to return to those days prior to passage of the civil rights bill. And while we recognize that kids manage to have fun no matter what, it doesn’t take long for them to pick up on those unspoken (well, some were quite vocal about blacks being inferior) implications that they were considered inferior to whites, and such a cruel message will dampen anyone’s spirits.

Then there was the message that girls certainly didn’t measure up to boys in the bigger picture. The advent of TV brought into everyone’s homes commercial revelations of how successful moms were at operating in-home machinery, but they certainly weren’t capable of doing anything outside the home environment.

And if there ever was a black person on TV, he or she was in a subservient role. Ambition, intellect, education, social station be damned, women and blacks just didn’t measure up back in the “good ole days”!

This was also the time of endless adulation of cowboys and the never-ending “praise be” to how they beat the Indians into submission. Most kids played cowboys and Indians, and of course the cowboys had to win. That was just the rule (except when we played), and no one questioned that fact. What about the Indians? We were told that they lived happily ever after on reservations, and all was right with their world. After all, they were the ones who resisted progress, and they lost.
"Let’s not forget the LGBT folks during this time. We’ve always been around, but we couldn’t be ourselves."
Yeah, but where are they? What do they do? “Hush, child, don’t ask so many questions now, and wash your hands for dinner!”

Sound familiar? That was part of the wonderful ‘50s, too. Denying reality and the truth.

We must note here that in review of the cowboy heroes and Western shows made during the 1930s, ‘40s and ‘50s, there was approximately one to three women to between 5 and 30 men in each film. Ma Barker and Annie Oakley were generally misrepresented and apparently the only women who rode a horse or shot a rifle during the development of the West, while cowboys were just everywhere being heroes to everyone (except the Indians, of course, and we’ve already mentioned how they didn’t count!).

And were there any black cowboys in the movies? In real life, yes, as history has shown. In movies, no. Just further evidence of the disillusionment that prevailed during those glorious ‘50s.

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And let’s not forget the LGBT folks during this time. We’ve always been around, but we couldn’t be ourselves. And while some of us did have families who accepted us, mostly by looking the other way, we were typically the invisible family members, accumulating layers of internal scar tissue.

Discussion of sexuality of any kind was strongly discouraged, and we were persistently encouraged to be a proper lady or gentleman. There was no room for anyone who strayed out of the appropriate sex role boundaries for their perceived or appropriate gender. How many kids suffered from the efforts to make them dress properly and fit comfortably into clothes, a career or an image that was contrary to what they felt or believed they were? No doubt hundreds of thousands.
"We deserve to be treated with respect and equality as the hard-working, taxpaying and participatory citizens that we are."
It should be evident that we all just had a grand time during that era of black-and-white pat answers, justified discrimination, stifled personalities, untruths and, well, downright lies.

Is this a legacy to which we want to return? We think not! While it would be fun to sometimes be a kid again, a return to childhood would not be acceptable if the above- cited aspects of social oppression were to accompany us. As firm believers in equity, equality and justice, we simply cannot tolerate discrimination.

And naïve as we can sometimes be, it just did not occur to us that in our day and stage of history there were still such draconian, racist, sexist, homophobic and just plain mean-spirited folks as are some of those who most recently were elected to positions of decision making and power. Call them tea partiers, tea baggers, neo- Nazis, repugs, extremist theologians or whatever. They threaten a return to the puritanical days of the Dark Ages. Some even threaten physical harm (indeed, some have been provoked to violence by vitriolic propaganda), and from that perspective the ‘50s don’t look so bad. Oh my! Can’t believe we just said that, but there are degrees of bad after all.

While our government has conveniently misdirected our focus toward the toppling of theocracies in parts of the Middle East, these right-of-all-things-holy folks have been amassing funds and followers toward the goal of establishing a theocracy of sorts in this country.

Think we are paranoid? No, we don’t think so, but as we said, we are angry. Angry that all of the wonderful folks in this country have been duped, and it’s time to not only embrace but reinforce the social and cultural progress that has been made and prevent a return to yesteryear.

And why do we stay in Indiana and tolerate overt discrimination and inequity? If we leave and don’t fight, then they win hands down. We deserve to be treated with respect and equality as the hard-working, taxpaying and participatory citizens that we are.

It’s time to demand no less from our fellow citizens and most certainly our elected officials. And it’s time for a do-over of the most recent election -- and a return to sanity.

Helen Harrell can be reached at hharrell@indiana.edu.