Photo: Pensiero, Flickr Creative Commons
I listened to a Stuff You Missed in History Class podcast today about the Crafts, a slave couple from Georgia who bluffed their way to the free states before the Civil War by train and ship. It's a fascinating story, and one I'd heard before, but it got me thinking. This is really related to another recent post about this era in my homeland's history, but thinking too hard about the past is a good way to lose your security in your sense of self. If I'd been a product of that era, would I be the avid liberal on racial issues that I am today? After all, there's no social shame in believing in the equality of races even in the most backwards pockets of the South now. There are people who won't agree with you, but they aren't so outspoken and dominant now as to make people like me feel like outcasts. Actually, I feel like more of a social misfit for typically voting Democrat than I do for treating all of my students alike. In this era, it's not hard for me to think that way.
But back then, during the time of the Crafts' escape, it would have been an entirely different story. So many things would have been different. Would I have been exposed to viewpoints differing from the dominant view that would have been likely in my family and friends? If I had been exposed, would I have had enough strength and reason to break with my family on this issue? There is so much in our current society that helps me be different, my family not being a bunch of raving racists being only one part of it. I don't know what would have happened then. Sure, I broke from my family and culture with my religious views a long time ago, but religion can be kept private and the differences personally ignored. I'm not sure more practical social issues would have been so easy to disregard.
It's disconcerting being reminded how much one may be a creation of one's environment. Having your own lack of complete ownership of who you are taken away from you is like suddenly realizing the ground has disappeared.
The good news is this is all impractical philosophy, at least on a personal level in my case. I am who I am now and will never have to worry about who I'd have been in the past.