“The wind of change is blowing through this continent. Whether we like it or not, this growth of national consciousness is a political fact,” Macmillan said.
It was an indication that the British Government was ending several centuries of colonization. While Macmillan intended to make clear that independence from colonial European rule was inevitable, he also sought to criticize the apartheid policy of the white “settlers.”
“[I]t is our earnest desire to give South Africa our support and encouragement, but I hope you won’t mind my saying frankly that there are some aspects of your policies which make it impossible for us to do this without being false to our own deep convictions about the political destinies of free men to which in our own territories we are trying to give effect,” Macmillan said.
Like most brave speeches throughout history, Macmillan’s words were not met with universal approval. Some British conservatives were outraged that their Prime Minister was rhetorically supporting the abandonment of colonial territory. Many whites in South Africa, Kenya and other British colonies took the Prime Minister’s words as abandonment by their own government.
Macmillan was right in noting that the winds of change were unavoidable. But what he might not have counted on was how much effort people would make in resisting them. It would take another 30 years after Macmillan’s speech for the South African government to open talks with Nelson Mandela to end apartheid.
The 1960s was a time of tremendous changes in the world and in the United States. It was a time that saw a relatively prosperous peace break down in sit ins, protests, occasional violence and political assassinations. Our current climate feels to many to be similar.
In a lot of ways, the battles of the 60s are again in sharp focus today. We’re not done securing equal rights (or pay) for women. We still have a long way to go when it comes to civil rights. Nearly 55 years after Martin Luther King Jr. marched on Washington, we still must deal with demonstrations by white supremacists. And that’s not all.
The turmoil we experience is not the cause, but the symptom. As America becomes a place that’s less white, less Christian, less male, less straight, it’s only natural for people to resist that change. People do not like change. We’re hard wired that way.
A study last year by scientists at the University of Southern California made a connection between political beliefs and personal identity by scanning brain activity. What they found, suggests that when people’s political beliefs are challenged, the brain takes it as a challenge to personal well being and can react in the same way it would to protect the body from physical harm.
For many of us, regardless of our political flavor, a challenge to ideas can feel like a physical threat. A bent knee during the National Anthem during an NFL game can have the same impact as a death threat delivered in the mail.
For those of us who like change and equate it with progress, it’s important to remember that it never comes without a little “wind.” The more change we ask for, the stronger the gale. Best we can do is hang on tight.