Breaking Our Nation’s Generational Curse

When I was younger, there was little in the Bible that pissed me off more than intergenerational curses. You know the kind – where it’s going to effect not just the person who broke the rules, but their children’s children. How could it be any kind of “fair” or “just” to punish unborn children for something they weren’t even alive to see?

I didn’t understand.

I didn’t understand that those “curses” were descriptive, not prescriptive. They were a way of talking about how the choices and experiences of one generation directly effect that family for generations to come. When talking about generational wealth, educational opportunities, social capital, or a whole raft of other factors, what happens to the elders can drastically improve – or limit – the chances and opportunities for generations to come.

No wonder they wrote about it like a curse.

This “curse” has taken center stage again now. Look at our popular culture, and how much deals with the “sins of the fathers”. Stargirl, Guardians of the Galaxy 2, Doom Patrol, The Old Guard, Warrior Nun, Wynonna Earp, Watchmen (TV), Lovecraft Country, Get Out, Us, Sorry to Bother You, and more [1].

It’s not surprising. So many of our social problems today are direct results of what our forebears did. Unrest in areas of the world we destabilized. Climate change. Economic inequality. And, as my last five examples address, our history of racism.

As we wrestle with the racism our society is built upon, the willfully ignorant will argue – as I naively did about those Biblical “curses” – that it isn’t fair. That they, alive now, were not directly involved in slavery, Jim Crow, segregation, and so on. That they [2] should not have to deal with the effects, do not have to be the ones to fix the effects, and those effects don’t exist anyway.

But we know that isn’t the case. Not with racism, nor with any of the others.

We can’t make Jefferson or Washington suddenly go back and (actually) free their own slaves, let alone the slaves of their peers. Even if the people who actively engaged in open racism (like red-lining) are still alive, we can’t force them to undo decisions made in the past.

The willfully ignorant will then claim the effects of past generation’s racism don’t effect today. And that is not only false, but those complaining about it know it’s false.

If the choices of prior generations don’t effect the lives of people of color today, then why do those same people fight so hard to keep every last cent of the inheritances they didn’t earn? Why have they repeatedly complained about “death taxes” on inheritances? Hell, if the actions of prior generations have no effect on the current one, then why do inheritances exist at all?

So they know what happened in the past doesn’t just stay in the past. They know that the past effects the reality of the present, whether we like it or not.

And so, like many of the heroes in modern pop culture, like many in the Bible, we find ourselves saddled with an unearned generational curse.

And just like the heroes of those shows, we might try to deny the curse our forebears brought upon themselves and us. But that never works.

We must change the inherited racist institutional practices our forebears left us with. We must, as best we can, reverse the effects of those practices.

We must break those curses.

If not for ourselves, then for our children and our children’s children.

Man at demonstration wearing a sign that says "Every day is future".

Featured Photo by Jed Owen on Unsplash
Additional Photo by Markus Spiske on Unsplash

[1] Yes, my list is heavily slanted toward what I watch. There are plenty of examples in non-genre fiction as well, but genre fiction (not just science fiction) holds up a dark mirror to our current reality.
[2] This is sometimes, but rarely, applied to the victims of racism. Usually, it’s people whose ancestors were the oppressors and profited from racism who complain the loudest that it isn’t their problem.

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