Norman Rockwell’s painting, The Problem We All Live With, of Ruby Bridges and her police escort to school in November, 1960.
(The Hamilton Spectator – Saturday November 21, 2020)
You have to wonder what life would be like if women ruled the world. Or at least America.
Consider the planet and all of its shades. Would it be a kinder, gentler place? One with more peace? A world with easier, more gracious, transitions of power?
You have to wonder, too, how little Ruby Bridges felt on that November morning when she walked to school with federal marshals, four of them, strong-armed, uniformed, escorting her for protection. Ruby showed the sort of courage that can manifest itself in children, marching on like a little soldier, no tears or whimpering, simply walking with purpose to a new school.
The six-year-old girl was among the first Black children to be integrated into a white school under new laws integrating America’s schoolchildren. The event unfolded in New Orleans. Its 60th anniversary passed us last week.
Imagine it. The crowds. The things thrown. The screaming. The hatred. Norman Rockwell later immortalized the moment by painting Ruby’s brave walk with those marshals, the N-word slightly visible on a wall behind them. The little girl spent the rest of that 1960 – 61 school year taught in a classroom by herself. Yes, alongside the hatred there was courage too.
So here we are, 60 Novembers later, witnessing the rise of Kamala Harris. She’s not only America’s first female vice-president-elect, but the first one of Black or Asian heritage. Maybe you’ve seen the recently created image – it’s gone viral – of Harris with briefcase in hand, walking and casting a shadow of little Ruby as depicted in Rockwell’s painting.
In this maybe we’re looking at more, maybe even a future presidential candidate. Not to say that the Biden-Harris team will easily unify the divided states of America, or always get it right. But it is to say that you don’t have to be any prophet to imagine shadows of hatred and courage, both, following any of us as we march to more progress in these matters.
Not surprisingly, pop culture has shown women leading, if not the world, at least America. One old silent film, The Last Man on Earth, shows a female U.S. president when all of the world’s men die. A now 20-year-old episode of The Simpsons has Bart seeing a future where his sister Lisa is president, succeeding – funny enough – Donald Trump. And in an episode of Life on Mars, it’s suggested that Malia Obama, daughter of Barack Obama, is president in 2035.
And in the real world? There has been at least some change. In the last six decades, about 70 nations, about one-third of the world’s sovereign states, have known some form of female top leadership. This has included six of the world’s ten most populous countries, among them India and Brazil. Most Scandinavian nations have known women leaders. Then there’s Germany’s chancellor, Angela Merkel, who, besides my wife, has to be the most powerful woman on earth.
The only woman to lead in North America or neighbouring Mexico, by the way, is former Canadian Prime Minister Kim Campbell. In 1993 she served as Canada’s head of state for a brief four months. And during the next 60 years? Who knows?
One Canadian who will know is my teenage daughter, Hannah, who, you may recall from this space, joined our family in Uganda when she too was a little girl. An orphan in a difficult part of the world – speaking of places that struggle with peaceful transitions of power – Hannah too had known courage from a young age. Then, a new family and new citizenship and new life.
Yes, I can picture Hannah living in a world with more women in power, even as we’re living in the echo of the word given by the vice-president-elect when Harris recently told anyone who’d listen, “While I may be the first woman in this office, I won’t be the last. Because every little girl watching tonight sees that this is a country of possibilities.”
This is the nub of it. The possibilities of any nation, just like any person, are limited too often by a lack of imagination. For some others they’re limited also by that strange and shaky hatred. The rest of us will do well to keep walking through it.