I competed in state speech contests in high school, usually "Boys' Humorous Interpretation." The winner in 1970 was Bob Shea, later of local fame as an actor and manager of the Palace Theater. He did a piece called "Peasletree," which I can still recite, having competed against it so many times. He introduced it with a mention that he was attempting to preserve a vanishing cultural resource: "The Old Negro Storyteller." Slam! Liberal trump card! Judges in sport coats and turtlenecks nodded approvingly. Bob was good, told it well. The rest of us were competing for second place.
Peasletree was in heavy in Uncle Remus-style dialect, with its bimebyes and sezees. No one would do it today. So my entertaining Bible story that begins "Well Ol' King David was a king. An' he was a mighty king. And one moanin' he wuz..." is no longer remotely welcome.
I mention this because its acceptability in society has not merely changed, it has reversed. It might, might have been unacceptable in 1970 if people had known what the title meant: the confused pronunciation of a poor reader encountering the biblical word psaltry. (And had the judges known that Bob had gotten the piece from an old 78 record instead of from library research, that might have counted against him as well.) Yet even then, I think it would still have attracted admiration.
In the early 1980's we had special trainings at the hospital as AIDS became a worry. Not much of the training was strictly medical. A lot was mythbusting and political, including wide-eyed cautioning that we must never, never suggest that homosexuals were more likely to have AIDS. That was demeaning and bigoted. When a psychologist suggested after initial staffing of a client that we might want to offer him AIDS testing and be cautious about contact and the safety of the other patients - said psychologist having accurately identified him as gay - people got up and walked away from the table in disgust that he should say that. Yet three years later it was important as part of our social justice mission to side with homosexual men in their efforts to get HIV recognised as a health hazard for them in particular, which was being swept under the rug, ignored, by the Reagan Administration (despite the unprecedented quick ramp-up for research funding). I was still liberal then. Perhaps that was one of the pieces in becoming postliberal.
Again, the correct response had not merely changed, it had reversed.
These occurred to me as the Donald Sterling events unfolded. When Sterling tried to contrast his actions to those of Magic Johnson, he was making an evaluation that well north of 90% of Americans would have agreed with a century ago. Leave aside the probable truth that Sterling was actually not scandalised by Johnson's sexual promiscuity, but was merely grasping at anything that might get him out from under and allow him to kick back. What Donald Sterling hid behind was a sentiment that would have been unexceptional in 1914, even among black people. Some would have been irritated, even quietly angry about a powerful white person saying such things in private, but most would have shrugged it off as pretty typical, yet been as scandalised as any white person at Magic's behavior. That Johnson would be considered a role model would have been repugnant to them, believing that it made them all look bad. The morality has not merely shifted, it has reversed.
Every American president from 1900-1945 made racial and ethnic comments that would destroy not only a political career these days, but might destroy one's entire life, no matter how small and unimportant one might be.
Plus there is that in private aspect. There is more variability among Americans on that, but not too many years ago people would have refused to consider any evidence against a person which had been obtained in that way. They would have pretended it did not exist, as jurors are supposed to when a judges orders something struck from the record.
I was about to say it's an advantage to have lived so long, so that I have the benefit of personal observation that the morality applauded or condemned by popular opinion was once different, giving me some perspective and balance. Yet this is not so. It is not an advantage. People change quickly, and become outraged, disgusted, infuriated by things they approved of not long ago. Pointing that out does not make one popular.
Please remember, even if you have to keep it quiet, when you hear the outrage of the crowd on any topic. One can't count on the same people being angered by the same act 10 years later. This isn't new, it is in our nature.
In fact, people outright deny they said the opposite only a few years before. I have had this happen at work and at church. Thankfully, I don't think I have experienced it among friends and family. When people change their minds, they are quite aware of it.
Check that. I just thought of some examples closer to home. Best to forget if I can.
We have always been at war with Oceania.