Were They Really the “Good Old Days”? Depends on Who You Ask

“Until we are all free, we are none of us free.”

When Were the “Good Old Days”?

Some people want to rewind the clock a few years. Back to when they thought America was moral. When Christian values were common. Back to the “good old days.”

But when we talk about the “good old days,” how accurate are we?

Maybe it depends on who you were in those days.

If you were a white-skinned, middle-class, Protestant American, maybe those “good old days” were a tidy little world for you.

  • But what if you were a dark-skinned man, denied a job because of that color?
  • What if you were an African-American mama worried about your child being arrested if he spoke “disrespectfully” to a white passerby on the street?
  • What if your family wasn’t allowed in the front doors of a local church or school because it was the white church or school and you happened to be black?

I’m not sure those who were being oppressed would refer to those as the “good old days.”

And I don’t believe those who were doing the oppressing should refer to them as the “good old days” either.

A Country’s Sin

Whether we’re the oppressed or the oppressors, it is not good. Whether or not we personally participated in individual sins of racism, the cultural sin of racism and its ripple effects still affect us all. On both sides of the issue.

As American poet Emma Lazarus said first in the 1800s,

“Until we are all free, we are none of us free.”

These words were put into the song “None of Us Are Free” sung by Ray Charles (1993), by Lynard Skynard (1997), and by Solomon Burke (2002).

And now in prose form, we hear the message again in the words of Ta-Nehisi Coates in his award-winning non-fiction book, Between the World and Me.

Between-the-World-and-Me-Ta-Nehisi-Coates

The book is written as a letter to his teenage son, Samori, to help him navigate our history and our present.

“This is your country, this is your world, this is your body, and you must find some way to live within the all of it.”

But we all need to hear these truths.

Advance the Conversation

So what happens the next time we hear someone talking about the “good old days”?

Here are three things we can do.

  1. Agree on things that were truly good. We certainly have all had good days that should be fondly remembered. Praise God for those.
  2. But we can also acknowledge the truly bad and not categorize a whole era as a “Christian” one, if it involved cultural discrimination against an entire race of people.
  3. Then we can begin a fresh dialogue about what “good NEW days” could look like.

As Nelson Mandela so eloquently said,

To be free is not merely to cast off one’s chains, but to live in a way that respects and enhances the freedom of others.

Quotes from Between the World and Me

Listen to the fear:

“When I was your age the only people I knew were black, and all of them were powerfully, adamantly, dangerously afraid. I had seen this fear all my young life, though I had not always recognized it as such.”

~ * ~ * ~

“Later, I would hear it in Dad’s voice—“Either I can beat him, or the police.” Maybe that saved me. Maybe it didn’t. All I know is, the violence rose from the fear like smoke from a fire, and I cannot say whether that violence, even administered in fear and love, sounded the alarm or choked us at the exit.”

~ * ~ * ~

“. . . when I was about your age, each day, fully one-third of my brain was concerned with who I was walking to school with, our precise number, the manner of our walk, the number of times I smiled, who or what I smiled at, who offered a pound and who did not—all of which is to say that I practiced the culture of the streets, a culture concerned chiefly with securing the body.”

Listen to the struggles:

“The question is not whether Lincoln truly meant “government of the people” but what our country has, throughout its history, taken the political term “people” to actually mean. In 1863 it did not mean your mother or your grandmother, and it did not mean you and me.”

~ * ~ * ~

Hate gives identity. The nigger, the fag, the bitch illuminate the border, illuminate what we ostensibly are not, illuminate the Dream of being white, of being a Man. We name the hated strangers and are thus confirmed in the tribe.”

~ * ~ * ~

“I left The Mecca knowing that this was all too pat, knowing that should the Dreamers reap what they had sown, we would reap it right with them.”

Listen to the need for us all to change:

“. . . and the terrible truth is that we cannot will ourselves to an escape on our own. Perhaps that was, is, the hope of the movement: to awaken the Dreamers, to rouse them to the facts of what their need to be white, to talk like they are white, to think that they are white, which is to think that they are beyond the design flaws of humanity, has done to the world.”

~ * ~ * ~

“‘It only takes one person to make a change,’ you are often told. This is also a myth. Perhaps one person can make a change, but not the kind of change that would raise your body to equality with your countrymen. The fact of history is that black people have not—probably no people ever have—liberated themselves strictly through their own efforts.”

* * *

I highly recommend Between the World and Me if you haven’t read it already. You can start here with these blog posts by Deidra Riggs:

As I wrestle with  discrimination:

How do you feel about the “good old days”? How can we improve these days? Please share your thoughts in the comments.

29 thoughts on “Were They Really the “Good Old Days”? Depends on Who You Ask

    1. LisaNotes Post author

      Yes, Lora, the freedom that Jesus gives is truly the only lasting kind anyway. As long as we are in the flesh, we’ll continue to sin and be sinned against. But until we’re free from the flesh, I agree we should always look for all perspectives. Thanks for your encouragement.

  1. Andrew Budek-Schmeisser

    It’s a huge question, and while it depends upon whom you ask, I doubt that most people (and I am not a white Protestant, and can’t afford even the most basic health insurance) would feel we’re doing better today than we were in, say, 1950.

    In 1950 we had a desegregated military, and a policy that worked; Brown v. Topeka Board of Education was still to come, but it WAS coming.

    And we threw it away, as a country.

    The problems were always there, but we began to go about them as if outlawing racism will make it go away, and as if forcing an absurd degree of nondiscrimination will truly increase compassion.

    All it does is build anger and resentment, and prolong the problem.

    The good old days had the possibility for change that would have taken time, yes, but would have improved things for everyone. We took a road that demanded immediate change by fiat, and it’s been nothing short of a disaster, and the way ahead will be bounded by more pain and broken lives than was ever necessary.
    Andrew Budek-Schmeisser recently posted…No Ticket To The World – A Story Of Viet Nam {#BlogBattle}My Profile

    1. LisaNotes Post author

      You’re showing that we’ve always had problems, and will always have problems. I agree; it’s just the nature of them that will change through the years. However, we can try to see where we’ve been blind, apologize when we’ve done wrong, and do better where there’s room for improvement (and there’s always room for improvement, yes?). Thanks for sharing your perspective, Andrew.

  2. Christine Malkemes

    You’ve proven the point: Those who long for the “good old days” never lived them. Nostalgia does a job to reality. Growing up poor and hated wasn’t the good old days. Learning the truth behind the middle finger wasn’t easy. Hate can eat you up alive if you let it. I let it UNTIL Jesus freed me and showed He didn’t make junk. I’m glad, even proud that Between The World and Me was written – prouder still that it’s someone is taking the message to heart. Those who deny the truth live in the bubble until it bursts. Thank you for sharing this truth on The Loft. Respectfully yours, Christine

    1. LisaNotes Post author

      I appreciate you sharing this, Christine. “Those who deny the truth live in the bubble until it bursts.” I agree that we can let nostalgia twist the way things really were. We do well to remember that people have been through all kinds of hard times in their pasts and to honor their truths. And when it’s within our power to change and help, we need to do that. I’m grateful also for the freedom that Jesus wants to give ALL of us, equally to every person. Thanks for sharing.

    1. LisaNotes Post author

      Thanks, Linda. I’m afraid I’ve been too easily blinded by others’ hardships for years, and I don’t want to add to anyone’s misery when it’s in my power to do otherwise. I appreciate your encouragement.

  3. Jerri Miller

    Love the quote, “Until we are all free, we are none of us free.” So true! It’s been a long long journey and we are still not there. I’m not sure we can ever attain it in this life EXCEPT in Christ. He is no respecter of persons. Any person of any race, color or nationality can choose to come to Him.

    I had some “good old days” but as I grew up I realized not everyone had those kind of days … I also remember that while living them, not everything was idyllic as it seemed. My goal of having a “normal family and normal life” seems funny now because there is no such thing as normal!
    Jerri Miller recently posted…Clean and RenewedMy Profile

    1. LisaNotes Post author

      I relate to all that you’re saying, Jerri. I had a very good childhood myself (and of course I thought that was “normal”!), but I was only seeing as a child, naturally. When I think back to things that were happening around me, I see that it wasn’t as easy on everyone else as it was on my family. I would love to go back and have conversations with adults around me at that time to hear what it was like from their perspective.

  4. alecia simersky

    Living in Alabama, as you do, I see racism and talk to people who think the “good ole days” were the days of segregation. As a christian and human being it’s hard to hear this kind of talk. The only thing I know to do and must do is remind those who speak in ignorance that we are called to love and if you call yourself a christian, such hate should not come out of your mouth. I appreciate books as this and Deidra Riggs’ posts because it opens my mind and heart to seeing a different perspective. Sometimes I need to take my white goggles off.
    alecia simersky recently posted…Woe is me…Wow is GodMy Profile

    1. LisaNotes Post author

      Yes, you see what I’m seeing, Alecia. It can be disheartening at times. You’re so right that books like this one and others and words from our fellow bloggers are really eye-opening to me and help me take my “white goggles” off for awhile too. Thank you for your encouragement!

  5. Beth

    Great thoughts to add to the discussion that our upcoming election has stirred, Lisa. I know that living in the South, you must have seen so much more of the discrimination than I feel like I did growing up in the Midwest. However, that said, I grew up very near Ferguson, Missouri, which caught the nations attention with the killing of Michael Brown not too long ago. So though I didn’t sense these obvious signs of discrimination growing up, I know that they were there. I just was often blind to them. And yes, we cannot delude ourselves to think that our nation was “Christian” in how we acted back then. We have far to go in being compassionate and loving like our Savior–now and then. Thanks for stirring a great conversation, my friend. 🙂

    1. LisaNotes Post author

      This election cycle has definitely stirred up some issues, yes? I like when it brings us into healthy conversations that we need to be having, but get frustrated when it just pushes people to dig in their heels more. I was like you growing up, basically blind to most of the discrimination that was going on around me. Only as an adult have I become more aware, and even now, I know what I see is SO minimal compare to those who have lived through it. Thanks for your comment, Beth!

  6. Melinda

    What a great post that put much into perspective. They were the good old days for me because I grew up in a military household where the only color was camoflauge. My family never judged a person by the color of their skin. But I was born in 1973. So I was too young to really know the struggles of our brothers and sisters, their mothers and fathers, grandmothers and grandfathers and so on. Great post. Thank you for being so candid. Stopping by because you were my neighbor at Bonnie’s today.

    1. LisaNotes Post author

      This is rich, Melinda: “the only color was camouflage.” It’s a blessing when you’re surrounded by those who aren’t prejudiced. I didn’t know to appreciate it at the time, but looking back, I appreciate that my parents didn’t pull me out of public schools once our local school was forced to integrate.

  7. Trudy

    Thank you for addressing these issues, Lisa. I’ll never forget when an elder told our Sunday school class that African-Americans (he called them “black people”) were from the lineage of Ham, so they are lower than us and are meant to serve others. I was pretty young then, but I was so shocked and upset. We weren’t supposed to contradict how ministers or elders interpreted Scripture, but in my heart I believed God never said that. When I went home I was still so upset that it spilled out to my dad. I don’t remember his words, but I just remember not feeling supported. It breaks my heart that different colors and nationalities are treated differently even today. And I’m positive Jesus must shed many tears. Blessings and hugs to you!

    1. LisaNotes Post author

      Oh my, Trudy! Hearing that comment from your elder must have been such a shock, especially at your young age since it’s something you still remember. I don’t have many memories of hearing blatant discrimination, but the subtle stuff was all around, and still is in ways that I’m sure I don’t even detect. I agree with you: Jesus must shed many tears. 🙁 May we be ones who make a difference to add to those who have already begun the change.

  8. floyd

    I grew up in a poor part of Southern CA in the late sixties. I still carry some scars from the stress of survival as a child. We were just caught in the backlash of history and violence and death was a very real reality we dealt with daily.

    With that being said. I completely get that anything less than equality, which is dictated by the word of God, isn’t acceptable.

    Here’s the thing; Although a lot of folks carry scars from that era, especially the African American community, who doesn’t love to hear a song like say Marvin Gaye’s “What’s Going On”?

    The mind smoothes out the rough spots in our lives with time. A good thing I think, but also a good thing to remember, in order to continue to see everyone treated as Christ loves them.
    floyd recently posted…ALL IS NOT LOSTMy Profile

    1. LisaNotes Post author

      I recently read a novel about three black sisters who traveled to California for a summer either during the 60s or 70s (I can’t remember). It was eye-opening to me to hear some of the stories based on true events. I guess we all have scars from different things, but yes, it’s a blessing that our minds do “smooth out the rough spots” and that we can all practice equality in the now as best we can.

      I may have to go youtube Marvin Gaye now since that song is now running through my head. Gotta love some Marvin Gaye. 🙂 Thanks for sharing, Floyd.

      1. floyd

        I guess what I failed to say, is even though we all lived through those tough times, we still look back on them as the good old days. Proves how much we’re all alike, and skin, eye, hair color, or what language we speak’s got nothin’ to do with it.
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  9. Somer

    wow! Thank you for all of this information. I have thought these thoughts so often. I’m so glad you typed out this idea that there were “good old days” I remember inwardly rolling my eyes at hearing this so many times as a child. I used to think, “If all the good old days happened in the past what hope do I have? What are you speaking over my life? My generation?” I always despised that. Truly there has always been oppression and oppressors. Thank you for all of this wonderful information and perspective. Let us live in expectation that we can make our patch of earth the Better Days. Now. And maybe it will send after shocks out into our community.
    Ever read Uncle Tom’s Cabin?
    I read it as a child and then as a high schooler.
    Amazing book.
    It will remove the “good old days” of the pre civil war from you!
    Somer recently posted…An AdjustmentMy Profile

    1. LisaNotes Post author

      This is a great point, Somer: “What are you speaking over my life? My generation?” We have to be mindful of what we say for SO many reasons. I can see how you would feel that way.

      I love your admonition:
      “Let us live in expectation that we can make our patch of earth the Better Days. Now.” Amen.

      Yes, I have read Uncle Tom’s Cabin, but only as an adult. I wish I had read it when I was even younger because it is a very powerful book. I made sure that both my daughters read it before they left home. I agree that it definitely removes that “good old days” mentality. Thanks for adding some great thoughts to the conversation today.

  10. Ana (@ANAWINSblog)

    I guess for me, the “good ole days” phrase references back to when America had more morality. More of a Christian faith. When the lives of unborn babies mattered and we cared less about materialism. Our culture has shifted to this all-about-me mentality and instant gratification and that means we are now okay with supporting socialistic presidential candidates in America. I’ve never considered that it goes back to slavery and oppression. Maybe it’s my age or that I’m naive and not understanding the phrase well enough. But you’ve given me some food for thought. I’m tempted to ask people in my life what they think it means, lol! Great thought provoking post, Lisa!
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    1. LisaNotes Post author

      I’d love to hear the conversations that you might initiate, Ana. 🙂 I need to ask others also how they would define the good old days. I realize there is always good and bad in every era; perhaps we’re doing better in some areas but worse in others. May the Lord help us make progress in every area in our corners of the world as much as it is within our ability with his help to do so.

  11. Sarah Donegan

    Yes! Let’s bring about the good new days and quit pretending the horrible stuff never happened. Growing up, my parents and grandparents never made racist remarks, so I was mostly convinced everything must be ok. As an adult, others’ stories have been eye opening. No more white goggles!
    Sarah Donegan recently posted…The Backside of a Cross StitchMy Profile

    1. LisaNotes Post author

      Yes, this has been my experience too, Sarah: “As an adult, others’ stories have been eye opening.” It makes me question how we shelter the truth from children (not just children from the truth), when perhaps we’d be better served with at least age-appropriate tellings of the truth all along the way. I know my parents saw discrimination, whether or not they participated, yet I heard few of those stories growing up. (At least that I remember.) But nothing I can do about that now except learn from it.

      I agree with you: Let’s bring about the good new days now!


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