walking and thinking

Who sees the storm and who has to live within it?

I went out for a walk this morning and it was clear that late last night there was a giant storm.

Branches are down, leaves are everywhere, and some of the big trees on the university campus fell.

This happened. It won’t be there tomorrow. But it happened.

This reminds me of the situation we’re in right now as white Americans. You can go to bed, with your windows closed or maybe your air conditioner on, and you can sleep right through it.

Then you wake up in the morning. And maybe you see the branches down. Maybe you see the leaves. Maybe you see the evidence of what’s occurred.

But you can also walk past it and say to yourself, something happened, but it had nothing to do with me. Nothing to worry about.

Something is happening and you don’t know what it is.

What white America needs to wake up to is the way in which we have built a world where we can do that, where we can go back inside, maybe shaking our heads, or thinking that might be tough to deal with. We can say, hey, let me go back to my normal life. Let me close my eyes to the changes that are happening out there.

I don’t even have to work that hard to pretend they have nothing to do with me.

I think this is some of my work as a teacher. To open eyes, to gently bring awareness, to make sure that the students see those who are living through that storm. To see their peers who can’t escape from that storm, the black students, the students of color, whose parents, grandparents, great grandparents, who have been living this storm every day.

And I need to make it possible for the kids who are living the storm to say this f—-g sucks. Period. And I need to make it so that no child can ignore it, or pretend it’s not happening, or think that it’s just a minor inconvenience. Or claim that words or deeds or social media posts don’t matter.

(Stevie Wonder, watch and listen, but the 6:00 mark will make your hair stand on end)

We cannot turn our heads any longer.

I am no longer accepting the things I cannot change.

I am changing the things I cannot accept.

— Dr. Angela Davis

More readings

Wesley Morris

“This country manufactures only one product powerful enough to interrupt the greatest health and economic crisis it’s probably ever faced. We make racism, the American virus and the underlying condition of black woe. And the rage against it is strong enough to compel people to risk catching one disease in order to combat the other — in scores and scores of American cities, in cities around the world. They’re a tandem now, the pandemic bold-underlining-italicizing what’s endemic to us. The underfunded hospitals, appalling factory conditions and unequal education were readily evident last year, before Covid-19. Now, the inadequacies and inequalities expedite death and compound estrangement. The low-wage workers have been deemed essential yet remain paid inessentially. The numbers of black, Latino and Indigenous people infected, deceased and unemployed are out of whack with their share of the population. And the president has yet to offer his condolences, in earnest.”

The Kerner Commission (1968)

Here’s a .pdf of the report. From the introduction, which I would like to read blind with my students in the fall and have them guess at the origins of the document and try and locate it in time.

“This is our basic conclusion: Our nation is moving toward two societies, one black, one white–separate and unequal.”

“This alternative will require a commitment to national action–compassionate, massive and sustained, backed by the resources of the most powerful and the richest nation on this earth. From every American it will require new attitudes, new understanding, and, above all, new will.”

“What white Americans have never fully understood but what the Negro can never forget–is that white society is deeply implicated in the ghetto. White institutions created it, white institutions maintain it, and white society condones it.”

“It is time now to turn with all the purpose at our command to the major unfinished business of this nation. It is time to adopt strategies for action that will produce quick and visible progress. It is time to make good the promises of American democracy to all citizens-urban and rural, white and black, Spanish-surname, American Indian, and every minority group.”