If you thought the last few months have been unsettling, how about the last few days? Imagine for a few moments that you’re a 10 year old, or maybe a teenager, trying to understand or wrap your head around living through a pandemic, isolated from many of your friends, trying (or not trying) to work your way through the assignments of remote learning. Now imagine ,on top of that, seeing hours of coverage of a black man lying in the street calling for his dead mother while someone who might look a lot like your school resource officer continues to press his knee into the man’s neck.
How are you processing what’s been going on? Several days ago, on the day after the first protests in Minneapolis turned violent, I heard an interview with a civil rights activist who is a member of the black community in Minneapolis. He was asked about the prospects for justice in the investigation and prosecution of the police officer(s) involved the death of Floyd George. His response touched me deeply. He said, “I live between History and Hope.” He explained how with each new piece of civil rights legislation he felt hope that this might be the turning point. He then recited a list of incidents in which a black person was shot and killed by the police where no charges or no convictions resulted and said, quietly, history makes hope hard to believe in.
About 10 years ago I worked with a colleague who was a highly educated black lady. We began a friendship which continues to this day. Our offices were in an urban area which was no stranger violence. After an event in which a black man was involved in a shooting, there was considerable discussion about the crime. My friend and I were talking and she was visibly upset. I asked her about her feelings and she responded… “I am a professional woman, I’m an Assistant Commissioner in the department of education, I hold a doctorate, and when something like this happens, all I am is black.” As the drama unfolds in countless cities, she remains defined by blackness!
As I write this and reflect on what I should write/need to write, I look outside and see a neighbor, who has just returned from a fishing trip, cleaning his catch, moving back and forth between the cleaning table and his boat as if today were just another day… a day far removed from Minneapolis, from Atlanta, from St. Paul, from Oakland and more than 20 other cities in our country where violence continues to challenge our “hope” for a peaceful resolution of what for most of us continues to be a “news event”. How are we reacting to this? Do we know how the kids in our schools, the kids we teach are responding? What are we doing in this time of remote learning to help our kids make sense of the fear that has gripped our country and now the violence which is displayed? What is our responsibility to explore with one another and with our students the history and implications of racial oppression and violence? How do we engage in conversations about who we are and who we wish to be… both as individuals and as a society?
In a piece piece that appeared in EducationPost, Kelisa Wing shares a quote from Martin Luther King
I think America must see that riots do not develop out of thin air. […] in the final analysis, a riot is the language of the unheard. […] (America) it has failed to hear that the promises of freedom and justice have not been met. […] Social justice and progress are the absolute guarantors of riot prevention.
In the battle between history and hope, history is winning. Ms Wing continues with an uncomfortable truth…
As I reflect on King’s words—social justice and progress—I am more convinced about the fact that the reason why we are at this place in our society is that racism is ingrained in the very fabric of our country. This country was built on the backs of slaves…
So what can I do…. I’ve never been an activist of any kind?
I grew up internalizing the advice offered frequently by my parents (usually right before a large family gathering) to never talk about religion or politics, “What ever you do, don’t get Uncle Joe started!” I saw my options as quiet activist or raging radical. Neither was a great fit. But by default, I’ve been a “quiet activist”. Then today the universe challenged me. Looking for answers while In between paragraphs on this blog, the universe presented a “put up or shut up” moment. It came in the form of an article article [LINK] that was posted by a former student on Facebook and which had appeared on Medium, “75 Things White People Can Do for Racial Justice”. With this article, Corinne Shutack has provided an incredible of mix of resources and action steps which may be taken individually or with others.
What happen if we each took inventory… spent some time with Shutack’s list and checked off things we may have done and then made a list of things we’ve never tried? What would happen if we made a “stretch” list… things that are not “us” but which we will try because the unresolved issue of race is killing us.
The journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step…
That single step doesn’t have to be taken alone. This step is so “not me”. I’d love your company.