"My sadness is that we are probably today more race and difference-conscious than I was in the 1960s when I went to school. To my knowledge, I was the first black kid in Savannah, Georgia, to go to a white school. Rarely did the issue of race come up," Thomas said during a chapel service hosted by the nondenominational Christian university [Palm Beach Atlantic University in West Palm Beach]. "Now, name a day it doesn't come up. Differences in race, differences in sex, somebody doesn't look at you right, somebody says something. Everybody is sensitive. If I had been as sensitive as that in the 1960s, I'd still be in Savannah. Every person in this room has endured a slight. Every person. Somebody has said something that has hurt their feelings or did something to them -- left them out. "That's a part of the deal," he added.
Let's say that Americans are more sensitive about race (and gender, and sexuality) than they were in the 1960s. This is a good thing. If blacks in Jim Crow Georgia were willing to answer to "boy" and shrug at "ni**er," it's because they risked danger with any other reaction. But that's changed. We've made progress. And now blacks, as well as other minorities and women, feel entitled to public respect in a way that wasn't true in the 1960s. In turn, there's a public recognition that we should be sensitive to the concerns of these groups. This isn't a setback -- it's progress.
Maybe the reason race came up rarely is that the racial situation in 1960s Georgia was extremely terrible. For instance, for the first 14 years of Thomas's life, Georgia had zero African-Americans in its state legislature. Majority-black Terrell had a total of five registered black voters -- possibly because African-Americans were so satisfied with their treatment that they didn't see any reason to vote, or possibly because civil-rights activists in Georgia tended to get assassinated. So maybe "reluctance to bring up racial issues" is not, in fact, the best measure of a society's racial health.