Nostalgia: a Sport for the Privileged

by Special Correspondent Wendi Muse

We all do it. 

We fall in love with the beautifully enchanting portrayal of the past that we  encounter in novels, historical fiction, and on the big screen. We get lost in the  dashing gentry, the voluminous hoop skirts, the lazy Sunday evenings. This fantasy past, however, is quite far from the reality most of us would have encountered in the “good old days.”

In fact, if I were alive during the long lost past, I would probably be an incredibly unhappy camper.

But there was a time when I could not see the forest for the trees. I would sit there with my classmates penning my “If I were to travel in time…” essays for English class or fantasizing about the Baroque period in Humanities class. I would travel to the deepest, darkest Africa with Cecil Rhodes in my History class. Yet as I got older and became more seasoned in the realities of global race relations, the beauty of the past faded. I knew for sure that no matter how beautiful an outfit, hairdo, or even lifestyle may have seemed, my participating in the nostalgic longing to return to the past was, in fact, an art I had picked up from the privileged.

If I were to go back to any time in American or European history, even the 1980s (Reaganomics….) or 1990s (LA Riots, anyone?) at my present age, I would face considerable challenges as a result of my race. As a black person, I would not be provided the same access to a happy life. It would most likely be thwarted by systematic oppression or social alienation. And with the rights I presently possess, I would not be willing to give those up for even a minute of sipping mint juleps in the antebellum South or listening to a live concerto in 19th century France. The reality is that I would not be welcome.

Nor would many of my friends. My Chinese friends would have been entirely banned from the United States (Chinese Exclusion Act). My Japanese friends would have been suspected terrorists (Japanese Internment). And anyone with a drop of black blood…well, get to hoeing, folks!

I suppose that is the magic of history. We can imagine it as we wish. We can simply ignore the facts in their entirety and craft an imaginary, historical fantasy world catered to our specific interests, in complete ignorance of the plight of well, just about everyone except for wealthy, white, male, straight, Christian landowners.

But, for now, I’ll stay right here in the present and imagine a better future to come.