I started this post yesterday and have returned to it over and over because I can’t settle. I can’t stay away from the newsfeeds. I can hardly think straight. This feels like one of those moments in history that will shake the foundations. I hope so. No change in policy or procedure or law will heal the lives devastated by American racism, but maybe, just maybe, we can change some hearts and minds, because that is how we will change this country and make the future better for everyone. I know that Black Lives Matter has taught me so much. I have opened my eyes and my ears, my heart and my mind. I am not alone. Yet there is still so much more for me to do, for all of white America to do, to be and do better, but I am finding it hard to concentrate.
I will need to spend some time today with my journal to find my balance. And that is my privilege. That I can sit in my house, secure in the knowledge that my son will not be lynched for jogging, murdered by the police in his bed (or arrested for shooting at intruders who break in during the night), or shot for playing his music too loud is my privilege. When he was young he could play in front of our house without police putting him handcuffs and he could even open carry a toy gun without fear of being gunned down by the police. He can walk down the street wearing a hoodie without being shot. A big tall boy in a hoodie that no one sees as threatening even though he too loves Skittles. Because he is a white. I am angry and devastated by the ongoing violence (both macro and micro) perpetrated by white people and police (as well as the justice system, maybe all the systems?) and condoned and often unquestioned by the media which perpetuates a cycle of victim blaming.
Meanwhile, in addition to this ongoing devastating cycle of violence, people of color in the United States have suffered health and wealth gaps as well as continued daily microagressions. Too often when these stories are told and peaceful protests are launched then white americans overreact and attack. We see police in riot gear surround, confront, and even attack unarmed protestors while white armed protestors are allowed to parade around state capitals and even lynch officials in effigy without being arrested, handcuffed, or teargassed and the officers dispatched are wearing only uniforms. And too many white people are still more disturbed about the destruction of property than the devastating human cost of racism in this country. As if brick, mortar, and glass matter more than flesh, blood, and heart. Too often these are the same white people who like to proclaim All Lives Matter — when clearly they don’t or none of the above would be true. Every time we decide that breaking car windows, selling loose cigarettes, or passing a fake $20 (accidentally or deliberately) is worth the death penalty – that police officers can be judge, jury, and executioner over such petty offenses – that because sometimes black/brown gang members kill other black/brown gang members we bear absolutely no responsibility for 400 years of racial oppression that led to the creation of those gangs and the neighborhoods where they thrive – every time we do these things, think these things, condone these things our very humanity is at stake.
This is why the humanities are so important. The very point of the humanities is to celebrate and examine the human condition. Which is one of the reasons why the establishment is often so quick to constrain, denigrate, and defund such programs. Certainly we don’t want to shake up the status quo. Certainly we don’t want to make any white people uncomfortable by telling the truth — the whole truth. We need history, sociology, philosophy, and psychology to grapple with these challenges. Even more, this is why we need the arts. We need music, poetry, plays, and calls to action and revolution. We need outlets for our thoughts, our emotions, our prayers. We need to read stories, hear music, and witness art that challenges our complacency and calls out our privilege and ignorance so we can understand the rage that leads to riots and recognize that being called a racist is not an act of violence. I am trying to do better as a human and as a teacher to challenge my students beliefs through our examination of popular culture (from comics to games) and other texts exploring social justice. I pay attention to voices (for example) from those whose lived experience challenges my inherent biases and ignorance. I continue to support student voice from slam poetry to argument. But our examination of American Literacy this fall will need to take a long look how racism is woven through the fabric of American life and drives so much of our identity and policy. We will examine the cost of racism on all our lives (yes, racism hurts everyone). We will also explore the stories of people whose experiences differ from our own. How will these moments inform your teaching and your writing?
Now excuse me while I go hug my son then write some poetry and rage-cry.