- Starting Over
When I was a child, like most children born during the Space Age, I liked to imagine that I could time travel. But, maybe unlike most children, I had an agenda. I wanted to be a prophet, of a sort. I conjured up elaborate scenarios in which I gave some awed pre-Industrial person a guided tour of the wonders of the modern world. I would show off our televisions as proudly as if I had invented them, and patiently convince them that those weren't real people stuck inside the box. Or they would ride in the car with me, incredulous as we picked up speeds faster than their chariots and carriages could ever attain.
When I got a little older, I only had one fantasy. To free slaves, or to go back and tell them they would be free.
My mother and father, born in the segregated North and South respectively, had no intention of raising a black child naive about the history of her people. By the time I reached the age of six or seven, I knew enough about slavery for the specter of it to haunt my wandering mind. I knew that there were women who screamed as their babies were taken from them. I knew about the desperate running, the hunting dogs foaming at the mouth, and the bloody lash. Most of all, I knew that if I had been born in the past, this would have been my fate.
Time travel was the only form of rebellion I had, and I took it seriously. I spirited slaves away in batches, telling them not to be afraid. I brought them into my house, to show that we could own things for ourselves. I brought them books, to show that we were no longer prohibited from reading. I saw them [End Page 169] cry tears of joy at these revelations, and my little heart swelled with something I couldn't identify at the time—a feeling of being avenged.
In my limited knowledge, I could only imagine freeing the slaves, or at least giving them hope. I could only conceive of correcting wrongs that had already taken place. Maybe if I had been older and known that history is a series of paths taken and deeds done, I would have tried to keep them from being slaves in the first place. I might have tried to start all over. But even now there are questions. How far back would I have had to go? To Plymouth? To Cuba? The Arab slave trade? The very invention of sailing ships? More importantly, what would be lost? Perhaps my little tours of the shiny modern world would come to an end—indeed, would never have happened.
That's the danger of time travel, hammered home in countless science fiction stories. Starting over always has a cost.
In America, most people don't seem to believe this is true. Many think we can simply forget—move on, as they like to put it. They would prefer, also, that this happen as quickly as possible and are quick to remind those of us "stuck in the past" that we are only a hindrance to inevitable progress.
By 2060, Census Bureau estimates say, 56 percent of the total U.S. population will be nonwhite. The image of happy, loving interracial families conquering racism is a potent one to a people who praise rugged individualism over state intervention and dream of peaceful solutions to problems rooted in hideous violence. But this ideal wasn't crystalized into an image until, in its 125th anniversary issue, in October 2013, National Geographic ran the feature "The Changing Face of America," visualizing just such a future. Out of the 25 mixed-race Americans captured in the accompanying photo essay, all with unexpected yet captivating combinations of features, one young woman takes center stage.
She's beautiful. More than beautiful: she is radiance personified. Her soft, rich blond curls are pulled away from her face. Her skin is a smooth honey brown. But it is her eyes that are the most striking. In real life I'm sure they must...