Today is the 100th anniversary of Einstein’s Theory of General Relativity. I’m sure somewhere today I will read, see on TV, or hear on the radio (public radio anyway) about this and also about the importance of science education. They will probably use the acronym STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, & Math).
In a previous blog post I asked the question whether our current, standardized-test-based education system could produce another Einstein. Looking at it now with a little distance, I think that is the wrong question. The first Einstein theory was not a product of the education system. Famously, Einstein was not a stellar student. This is a common theme among the kinds of genius such as Einstein.
I think the more importance question is this: Can the current education system produce a generation that can understand and apply Einstein’s Theory of Relativity? And I’m not talking about the next…
This past week, while not sleeping in the wee hours, I have been replaying some old Star Trek: The Next Generation episodes. It is a nice idealistic universe to escape to during well, you know…
In an episode from the otherwise regrettable first season, three individuals, cryogenically frozen for the past 300 years, are found and awakened by Lt. Cmdr. Data, an android. It’s not a bad premise; explore the progression of humanity through the eyes of the non-human, non-emotional android. One character, a wealthy entrepreneur/financier stereotype of 1980s greed is frantic to gain access to his accounts anticipating untold wealth from the interest alone. When told by Captain Picard that humanity no longer valued the accumulation of things and wealth, and humans now had their material needs met, the thawing capitalist declared it isn’t about the things and the wealth, it’s about power. “What do humans strive for now?” He asked. To better ourselves, personal growth, knowledge and wisdom, and enlightenment was the captain’s response.
Gene Roddenberry’s utopian future is built on the premise that if we found a way to meet the lower needs on Maslow’s hierarchy, we would then be freed-up to pursue the upper. Maybe so. I don’t know. I couldn’t resist the graphic that added “WiFi” to the base of the pyramid. That’s funny. This set me to thinking about how we educate and indoctrinate our children into, and how to live in, a capitalist democracy, which led to pondering the connection to teaching, assessment, and grading. This is what my current students are thinking about this past week, so I’m thinking about too.
I’m pushing my students to consider what a teacher can do beyond traditional grading that often is simplified to awarding points for right answers, or a simple letter grade, but nothing else. Providing feedback (grade) of that nature is doing a very good job of helping to enact the story that results in the stereotypical competitive, materialistic (potentially morally vapid) capitalist portrayed in that ST: TNG episode. For many teachers, every assignment, no matter how small, is to be scored, graded, recorded, and therefore, the students judged and sorted.
One of my students pondered on a discussion board (she earned 10 points—just kidding), if moving away from using points as a main component of feedback, what do I do with basic skill assignments such as spelling tests or multiplication tables? How do I grade them?
This connects to what I call a crisis of perception in education. Education is often reduced to the accumulation of basic knowledge and skills with the power and wealth (points and standing) awarded to those sorted and judged as best at that. Sound familiar. Accumulation of power. But that isn’t the goal of education, or it shouldn’t be. Those basic skills are supposed to be the foundation upon which we explore personal growth, wisdom and knowledge, and enlightenment as part of living in a moral, capitalist democracy.
We’ve given that up, largely, and have made our focus on just the accumulation of those basic skills much like we’ve given up the purpose of our lives to the accumulation of things and wealth—of power.
This is our crisis of perception.
So, what to do with the spelling test and multiplication table quiz? Yes, those still need to be taught (and assessed). But, the purpose isn’t to spell correctly and know 9 x 7 as an autonomic response. The purpose is to understand the patterns of language and computation, so that those skills can happen autonomically during the pursuit of more important aims.
Why not use the spelling test to inform the teacher and the student which patterns of spelling are not yet understood. Every elementary teacher right now is saying, but that is what I am doing and why I’m grading it. So they know what they can or can’t do. I’m sorry, but you’re wrong. Even if you think you are identifying and practicing those patterns, the student is experiencing this instead: I failed, the 5/10 is now in the grade book, my parents see the grade. I can’t spell.
“But I have to grade!” You might say. And you might. Assess everything. Provide feedback on everything. But the feedback must feed forward to increasing application of skills to things that are important to personal growth, knowledge and wisdom, and enlightenment as part of living in a moral, capitalist democratic society.
When we grade and record for all posterity in the grade book the practice of a skill as the end goal of education, really all we are doing is sorting and judging those that require more practice and those that do not as winners and losers at learning. We are beginning the accumulation of power.
Save the grading (if you must) to those things that are most important and are an application of information and skills. The rest is practice. And if failure isn’t risk free in practice, then it isn’t practice. And that just leads to education PTSD.
Ruth Bader Ginsburg died last night and I’m deeply saddened by that. When I reflect on the impact this one person had on our country I am awed. When I think about the weight of expectation and guidance so many put on one person, I’m a little ashamed. Was that fair to ask someone to fight for equity in our names until her absolute last breath? I don’t know. But she took on that weight and bore it with amazing grace. She said, “Fight for the thing that you care about, but do it in a way that will lead others to join you.”
Thinking about her brought me to this song by Eliza Gilkyson. It was written about a year ago, but it could be written for today. So here it is with some images added.
My goal as an educator is to provide a space for students to safely take on new challenges and risks in learning. There are always students who remain so paralyzed, maybe by a combination of flagging confidence in learning capacity and/or a fear of failure, that they cannot even muster the gumption to ask a question. This creates a downward spiral. So afraid to ask questions, they build and build, compounding fears of failure and feelings of inadequacies until the learner is overwhelmed and either shuts down, or explodes with all their questions at once. At this point, they are in crisis mode. It’s as if they are suffering from education PTSD. I think this comes largely from the “work for a grade” culture so pervasive in U.S. schooling, which for many children means the daily experience of school is avoiding negative feedback—especially if anything but an “A” is considered less than or a failure.
I use a narrative grading format in my classes. This means I don’t give individual grades or points on assignments—just narrative feedback intended to honor work done and then identify what to build on moving forward. This is part of my attempt to foster intrinsic motivation and de-emphasize extrinsic motivation.
Does it work? It seems to, at least for many of my students. At the end of the term, the vast majority report being focused more on how much they can learn from an assignment as opposed to how that task will impact their grade.
But it is a struggle at first. Here’s how it plays out with some of my students. Despite extensive explanation that when an assignment is returned, if there are gaps needing addressing, I will clearly provide guidance as to what they are and what needs to be done to fill those gaps. And that, as long as they are willing to keep working at it, I’ll keeping providing feedback until it is completed sufficiently. And if they do that, I assure them their grade will be fine. We won’t just accept that some concepts are never mastered, forget it and move on to the next thing.
When something is returned as “incomplete” some students respond immediately by digging in and finishing the task. Others tentatively respond, “So, do you want me to fix it? Can I, and will it still count?” Others try and ignore it and move on until I coax further that the incomplete has to be finished. I’m not educating incomplete learners going out there to teach.
Many are so conditioned that they only get one chance to attempt learning and only get scoring feedback from the teacher, there is no concept that the feedback should feedforward. For them, school is about judging and sorting based on attempts as opposed to growth and development based on experience. Educational PTSD.
To break the cycle, we teachers must provide a space for students to safely ask questions, to try new things, to get feedback (whether a set of points, a grade, or a narrative) that is for the purpose of feeding forward and informing on progress, identifying success, and then guiding to correcting failure, filling gaps, making connections, and expanding expectations.
There isn’t one way to accomplish this classroom culture, however, all require establishing a culture of trust between the student and teacher. They have to see that you have their best interest in mind and therefore have their back. While there isn’t one specific way to establish this, there are surefire ways to destroy it.
Feedback that only judges.
Feedback that is impersonal.
Feedback that accepts failure and moves on.
Feedback that dismisses questions.
We know that picking oneself up and learning from mistakes might be the best teacher, yet why perpetuate a system that penalizes such experience?
You have undoubtedly seen or heard from anthropologists, historians, and biologists that there is no such thing as race, and that race is a sociological construct. I agree, but I also understand why this truth about race doesn’t stick with so many; it doesn’t match their experience. What we know is what we experience, not what we are told. The enslavement of Africans was justified biologically, and for many that false narrative continues. So, let’s talk explore the biology and sociology of race a bit.
We are a young species, and 150,000 – 200,000 years ago, in the early history of our species it is thought that we were once nearly extinct—with our population reduced down to a few thousand individuals. Because of this (and a piece of evidence for this near extinction), across our species, from one individual to the next we are virtually genetically identical. Individual humans are much more the same genetically than the individuals of just about other species.
However, one readily visible variation evolved during this time: skin color. During our short evolutionary history, the expression of the trait for skin color evolved into a broad spectrum of pigmentation as a result of two forms of the pigment melanin: eumelanin and pheomelanin. The different shapes of these two molecules reflects different aspects of the light spectrum, so eumelanin is either black or brown and pheomelanin has either a red or pink hue.
Melanin is stored in our cells in structures called melanosomes which form an “umbrella” of sorts above the nucleus containing our DNA. This umbrella absorbs UV radiation from the sun, thus protecting our DNA from degradation caused by harmful UV rays. The darker the pigmentation, the more UV light is blocked from reaching the nucleus. In addition to the melanosomes protecting our DNA in our cells, thus offering protection from skin cancer, it also protects the vitamin folate stored in our cells. Folate is needed for healthy embryo development and health sperm production.
If there are two obvious advantages to darker skin, why don’t we all have the maximum eumelanin to give us all the most protection from the sun? Evolution is often a story of compromise. The darker the skin from eumelanin, the less UV-B radiation is absorbed which is necessary to produce vitamin D. The darkest possible skin blocks most of the UV-B radiation needed to make vitamin D. However, such individuals living near the equator, even with maximum melanin pigmentation protecting the DNA and folate production, still let enough UV-B through to produce enough vitamin D.
As populations of humans migrated further from the equator, they underwent microevolution to have less eumelanin and more pheomelanin, thus lightening the skin and reducing the efficacy of the melanosome umbrella. The further from the equator, the less intense the UV radiation, so the individual can safely have reduced melanosome umbrella coverage and not suffer DNA and folate degradation, but still get enough UV-B to make vitamin D. Thus, we a see a lightening of skin pigmentation in individual’s as their more recent evolutionary ancestry can be traced to latitudes further from the equator. You can tell a person’s ancestral latitude of origin based on their skin tone.
Genetically and biologically it would seem I’ve made a case for the concept of “race.” Except one thing is abundantly clear. Skin pigmentation is simply a product of natural selection and nothing else and the production of eumelanin versus pheomelanin is not any indication of other characteristics. Genetically, we are all approximately 99.9% the same. In fact, our closest related species, the bonobo chimpanzee, is genetically more similar to us than they are to gorillas. Looks can be deceiving. The genetic variation we see in skin color is literally only skin deep. It makes as much sense to separate individuals by their skin color as it would to separate people by whether they have attached or unattached earlobes, can roll their tongue, or have a widow’s peak (well maybe not that last one. We need to keep that one for TV vampires).
According to Resmaa Menakem (2017), author of My Grandmother’s Hands: Racialized Trauma and the Pathway to Mending Our Hearts and Bodies, the conception of blackness and race were invented in the 17th century. Prior to this, individuals in North America were identified by their place of origin/tribe: English, French, Dutch, Pequot, Narragansett, Mohawk, etc., and “European colonists and their children did not think of themselves as belonging to the white race—or to any race” (p. 63). This historical opinion is based on review of the books, diaries, pamphlets, public records, letters, etc. from that era which do not provide any evidence of racialized descriptions of individuals.
Without the biological classification of “race” then it is more likely the concept of race is a sociological construct used to justify the advent of enslavement of peoples based on race. Prior to the first enslaved Africans being brought to North America in 1619, there was certainly a long-established tradition of slavery not only in North America, but globally. However, people tended to be enslaved more often based on tribalism, not on the color of their skin, and often the result of wars and raids.
From the perspective of the enslaved individual, the reason doesn’t matter of course. It’s all equally cruel. However, the enslavement of Africans by Europeans, primarily in North America, became an economic foundation upon which this country was built. When racialized enslavement officially ended with the Emancipation Proclamation and the defeat of the Confederate secession, those with the advantage had to create new forms of racialized separation and enslavement in the form of sharecropping, poll taxes, redlining, separate but equal, and the list goes on to this day.
What biology tells us is that race is only skin deep and that in reality we are all of one tribe. And that goes deep into our core—the DNA in the nucleus of each our cells. Perpetuation of racialized separation continues to imprison us all in the ongoing trauma caused by such brutality.
This trauma, both historical and current, affects everyone, even the oppressors. The evidence can be seen on their faces and in their words. Are they the faces and words of someone who is content and happy or someone in deep pain? Why choose pain? We can honor, embrace, and celebrate cultural diversity that has evolved (and sometimes aligns with superficial traits such as melanosome umbrella production) while still embracing our universal humanity. I think we are at a tipping point in history were we either choose this path, or we tear our country and democracy apart.
About a year ago I had one of those life moments that leaves an indelible stamp. I was privileged to be able to attend the “Casa de Musica” songwriting workshop run by Eliza Gilkyson, John Gorka, Don Richmond, and Cisco Ryder Gilliland in Taos NM. It’s a rough life I know.
On the last day of the workshop, I shared a song I originaly began writing in 2014, My Heart Aches. Since, I and Eliza have each recorded and released a co-written version this year.
I wrote the original first three verses in August of 2014 after Michael Brown Jr. was killed in Ferguson, Missouri, thinking about how it’d been 50 years since the civil right act of 1964 and about 500 miles from where Emmett till was lynched in Mississippi and Ferguson, Missouri, and maybe we hadn’t made as much progress as we thought (and sang about a couple generations ago).
And then it sat for a while. And then about a year later Dylann Roof killed nine individuals in a church in Charelston South Carolina, and I wrote the rest of the first version of the song.
We marched 50 years and 500 miles From Mississippi to a Ferguson mistrial Stepping over bodies of other mother’s sons Singing how someday “We shall overcome.”
We marched 50 years and so many miles With folded hands and tacit smiles Comdemning a generation to circumstance And “All we are saying is give peace a chance.”
My Heart Aches
We marched 50 years and countless miles Ignoring signs, living in denial Waiting for another to take a stand And “Hammer out justice all over this land.”
My Heart Aches
For a country trapped in racist rhetoric – my heart aches For those with hearts filled with rage – my heart aches For families crying over graves – my heart aches For communities torn apart by race – my heart aches For my struggles with forgiveness and grace – my heart aches For my complacency and restraint – my heart aches
Here’s a recording of the song as I played it at the workshop. What made the moment indelible on me was hearing all of the other students/musicians sitting in front of me, and the pros sitting behind me echoing “my heart aches” after each time I sang that line. Hearing two songwriters in Eliza and John I had long admired, and Don and Cisco (playing the cajon) who I had just met singing and playing a song I had written was simply awesome.
It was a decent song that captured a moment. I continued to work on the second half, updating with more specific (and recent imagery, such as children in cages) and then sent it to Eliza who took it the rest of the way to completion, making it something special.
We marched 50 years and 500 miles From a Mississippi bridge to the Ferguson trial Stepping over bodies of other mothers’ sons Singing how someday we shall overcome
My heart aches
We marched 50 years and so many miles With folded hands and complacent smiles Condemned a generation to circumstance And all we were saying was give peace a chance
My heart aches
We marched 50 years and countless miles Ignoring the signs with our own denials Waiting for some others to take a stand And hammer out justice all over this land
My heart aches
For the children locked in cages far away where no one sees For the helpless and the hopeless, for the homeless refugees My heart aches For the voices who’ve been silenced at the mercy of our greed For the prisoners of conscience who speak out for those in need My heart aches For the victims of the hatred lying on the ground In the churches and the schoolyards. From the shots that took them down My heart aches For the claims made on our bodies, and who we can and can’t embrace For the children of tomorrow and the world they have to face My heart aches
You can listen to Eliza’s recording here, and purchase from her directly here. I really like her version. Covid-19 has wiped out all touring income. For musicians such as Eliza, this is their primary source of income. So, I encourage purchasing music instead of or, better yet, in addition to streaming it.
You can listen to my version and purchase here. It doesn’t have Eliza’s wonderful voice, but it does have Linnea’s, which is pretty damn sweet. I still get chills when I hear her sing the harmony on the line “From the shots that took them down.”
Protestors toppled the Christopher Columbus statue outside the state capital in St. Paul last week. This was met with responses of outrage to tacit approval by the Walz administration. This has caused me to reflect on the presence, purpose, and appropriateness of monuments and what this says about our nation.
Why hold on to such monuments of our history if not to protect what those monuments stand for?
Many argue keeping them to honors the best men and women of American history—end of discussion. Others rationalize keeping them to remember that component of our history, even the negative or evil aspects. Still others argue it is unfair to judge the subjects of monuments out of context of the time and by today’s standards. They were monumental at the time.
I appreciate the last answer because it is honest. However, I do not accept the argument that we need to preserve the monument as a means of preserving the history. Monuments are not designed illuminate and teach history. They tell the preferred story as understood by the artist who made it and the society that commissioned it. Monuments preserve a perception of a person and what he or she represented at that. Monuments are designed to elicit adulation.
That isn’t the only purpose, however. In addition to highlighting an historical figure, they chronicle who the society was when the monument was erected. A great many confederate-leader monuments were erected years after the civil war during the Jim Crow era of the late 1800s and early 1900s. More in the 1950s. These were a response to civil rights efforts. They served as reminders of oppression and slavery, reminders of knowing one’s place in society. They were tools of further oppression.
Monuments are not effective teaching tools for history. We teach about the rise of Hitler without preserving publicly displayed monuments to the man. To do so would be offensive to most. Imagine confronting by such a monument in daily routines such as rounding a traffic circle during the morning commute. We don’t allow such unsolicited, unwelcomed, painful reminders. To do so would be to inflict further trauma on the victims or their descendants. Most would considered it cruel.
That is exactly what we do, however, to the marginalized, non-white, non-dominant culture every day by continuing to honor individuals that engineered, or at least represent, a history of genocide and slavery. In fact, I can see how even the presence of my Caucasian face might serve as a reminder of the history of genocide, slavery, and continued oppression.
I think that is the truly honest, naked answer to why we don’t take down such monuments. To the victors go the spoils and the winner gets to write the history, right? We tell a white supremacist history and continue to hold the spoils in the form of wealth, opportunity, and access to clean natural resources. And we don’t want to let go of that advantage. That’s the ugly, honest answer we must acknowledge.
The irony is that we are not the victors. The war isn’t over. This society built on an economic model of extraction of natural resources from the earth often to the detriment of those living there, in the pursuit of ever an expanding economy only has one outcome—our eventual demise. We will all lose.
To truly tell our American history, learn and honor it, the story should be told through the eyes of the victims and oppressed, not the victors and their descendants. That is why we tell the story of WW II largely through preservation of concentration camps and museums such as the holocaust museum and not with monuments to Hitler and Mussolini.
Regarding monuments that represent the original sins of this country, I say tear them all down and erect monuments to those that fought for the victims of the original sins. Those heroes deserve public display which becomes a casual backdrop to the daily life of the average citizen. That’s how their heroism becomes the story we enact. The rest belong in curated museums for the purpose of education, not adulation.
And if you are offended by having to see the monument of a resistor of oppression on your daily rounding of a traffic circle, or walking the steps of a state capital, then you’ve got some serious explaining and work to do.
When the statues come down Silenced voices lift up No longer hearing the din of oppression We live by the rising chorus of liberation Removing constriction of shackles for some Provides freedom for all Caging ghosts of the victors Frees spirits of victims Reconciliation of sins Provides opportunity for grace
My youngest daughter turns 21 today. Woohoo, nothing like celebrating your 21st on Zoom with friends, while living with your parents, and sheltering from a pandemic. And she’s lucky to have it so good compared to so many! We shared a birthday dinner Last night with the grandparents—a somewhat socially distanced dinner on my parent’s deck. Watching my children interact with their grandparents is a privilege.
My kids have had the privilege to have four stable, involved, mostly healthy grandparents their entire lives. The grandparents were actively involved in raising my children, not just being around, but helping to nurture and guide them. They would not be who they are without them. I did not have this privilege. My kids have the privilege of feeling “at home” in the homes of their grandparents. What is it like to know there are six adults who’ve got you covered—who would do anything to protect and care for you, who love you unconditionally—even enough to set limits to scold and reprimand if necessary?
My parents grew up either poor or very modest working class. But they did so in post WWII America and worked their way from that strata of society to middle class or even higher. Their generation could work and pay cash for college, and/or work blue collar jobs and possibly work their way to professional, higher paying careers. They could, and many did, do this without any assistance from their parents. They even raised children while doing this.
The primary means of accumulating potentially generational financial security was through home ownership and a long-standing career with one employer who provided a secure and steadily increasing salary concluding with a reliable pension. This financial backdrop of an expanding middle America provided employment, housing, food, public schooling, and higher education security for most who had the privilege to access it and wherewithal to grab hold of it.
From this foundation, my wife and I could choose careers that paid modestly, but still provided middle America security and stability for our family. However, during my adult, working life, the economic reality has shifted. We were fortunate to have the village of our parents—our kids’ grandparents. We knew that we would never go hungry, lose our home, or be faced with an unexpected bill that could push us into bankruptcy. We had family that could catch us and help us back up if we fell. We had the privilege of this safety net because of the middle class wealth our parents were able to accumulate. This was the trajectory of post WWII middle America.
That has not been the case as much for my generation or my children’s generation. The wage and wealth gap has grown to historic proportions since the early 1980s. In fact, I believe that for every year of my adult life as a public school teacher/public university professor, my basic salary increase (not counting promotion, continuing education, or longevity increases) has never kept pace with the rate of inflation. So, my profession, on average, pays less every year. Additionally, every year, the cost of health care or my portion of health insurance has always increased. I still consider myself privileged to be in a profession that did provide increases for continuing education and experience, and stable employment with a (so far) reliable pension. Many do not have such a career.
We’ve worked hard to build careers, advance our education, build equity in homes, but we would never have had that opportunity without the support of our extended village. The economic landscape is even more difficult for our children entering the world. They could capitalize on our family’s generational support and stability and go to the college of their choice and pursue areas of passion and interest for (potential) careers. At least so far. As the wealth gap continues to spread, the road to financial security only gets rockier with more and more barriers. Wages continue to stagnate, health care and college costs increase at nearly exponential rates, and home ownership is more and more difficult without family support.
Now imagine if we weren’t white.
My parents and my family faced no systemic, structural barriers. We never had to fear the very world in which we tried to make our way with no possibility of escaping a world that continually erected barriers. To the contrary, our world was structured to guide us along the way. This is my experience with and my understanding of white privilege.
Honestly I cannot imagine life without that privilege. So I’ll let someone who can share that perspective. This is Kimberly Jones, co-author of I’m Not Dying With You Tonight. I’ve included a transcript after the video.
So, I’ve been saying a lot of things, talking about the people making commentary Interestingly enough, the ones I’ve noticed been making the commentary are wealthy black people making the commentary about you should not be rioting, you should not be looting, you should not be tearing up our own community. And then there’s been an argument of the other side of we should be hitting them in the pocket, we should be focusing on the blackout days where we don’t spend money. But, I feel like we should do both, and I feel like I support both, and I’ll tell you why I support both.
I support both because there’s…when you have a civil unrest like this there are three type of people in the streets. There are the protestors. There are rioters, and there are the looters. The protestors are there because they actually care about what is happening in the community. They want to raise their voices and they’re there strictly to protest. You have the rioters who are angry, who are anarchists, who really just want to fuck shit up, and that’s what they’re gonna do regardless. And then you have the looters, and the looters almost exclusively are just there to do that. To loot. Now, people are like, “What did you gain, well, what did you get from looting?”
I think that as long as we’re focusing on the what we’re not focusing on the why, and that’s my issue with that. As long as we’re focusing on what they’re doing, we’re not focusing on why they’re doing. And some people are like, “Well those aren’t people who are legitimately angry about what’s happening. Those are people that just want to get stuff.”
Okay, well then, let’s go with that. Let’s say that’s what it is. Let’s ask ourselves why in this country, in 2020, the financial gap between poor blacks and the rest of the world is at such a distance that people feel like their only hope, and only opportunity to get some of the things that we flaunt and flash in front of them all the time is to walk through a broken glass window and get it. But they are so hopeless that getting that necklace, getting that TV, getting that change, getting that bed, getting that phone, whatever it is that they’re get is that in that moment when the riots happened and if the present an opportunity of looting, that’s their only opportunity to get it.
We need to be questioning that why. Why are people that poor? Why are people that broke? Why are people that, that food insecure, that clothing insecure and that they feel like their only shot that – that they are shooting their shot – by walking through a broken glass window to get what they need. And, then people want to talk about, “there’s many people that pull themselves up by their bootstraps and got it on their own. Why can’t they do that?”
Let me explain to you something about economics in America. And I’m so glad that as a child I got an opportunity to spend time at Push, where they taught me this , is that we must never forget that economics was the reason that black people were brought to this country. We came to do the agricultural work in the south and the textile work in the north. Do you understand that? That’s what we came to do. We came to do the agricultural work in the south and the textile work in the north. Now, if I right now, if I right now decided that I wanted to play Monopoly with you, and for four hundred rounds of playing monopoly, I didn’t allow you to have any money, I didn’t allow you to have anything on the board, I didn’t allow for you to have anything. And then, we played another fifty rounds of Monopoly and everything that you gained, and you earned while you were playing that round of Monopoly was taken from you. That was Tulsa. That was Rosewood. Those are places where we built black economic wealth. Where we were self-sufficient. Where we owned our stores. Where we owned our property. And they burned them to the ground.
So that’s four hundred years. So for four hundred rounds of Monopoly you don’t get to play at all. Not only do you not get to play, you have to play on the behalf of the person you are playing against. You have to play and make money and earn wealth for them and then you have to turn it over to them. So, then for fifty years you finally get a little bit and you are allowed to play. And every time that they don’t like the way that you’re playing, or that you’re catching up, or that you’re doing something to be self-sufficient, they burn your game. They burn your cards. They burn your Monopoly money.
And then, finally at the release and the onset that they allow you to play and they say, ‘okay, now you catch up.’ Now at this point, the only way you’re gonna catch up in the game is if the person shares the wealth, correct? But what if every time you share the wealth, then there’s psychological warfare against you to say, “Oh you’re an equal opportunity higher.” So if I played four hundred rounds of Monopoly with you and I had to play and give you every dime that I made, and then for fifty years, every time that I played, I…if you didn’t like what I did, you got to burn it like they did in Tulsa, and like they did in Rosewood. How can you win? How can you win?
You can’t win. The game is fixed. So, when they say, “why do you burn down the community? Why do you burn down your own neighborhood?” It’s not ours. We don’t own anything. We don’t own anything. There is…Trevor Noah said it so beautifully last night. There’s a social contract that we all have. That if you steal, or if I steal, then the person who is the authority comes in and they fix the situation. But the person who fixes the situation is killing us. So, the social contract is broken. And if the social contract is broken why the fuck do I give a shit about burning the fucking football hall of fame, about burning a fucking Target? You broke the contract when you killed us in the streets and then didn’t give a fuck. You broke the contract when for four hundred years we played your game and built your wealth. You broke the contract when we built our wealth again on our own by our bootstraps in Tulsa and you dropped bombs on us. When we built it in Rosewood and you came in and you slaughtered us. You broke the contract. So fuck your Target. Fuck your Hall of Fame. Far as I’m concerned, they can burn this bitch to the ground, and it still wouldn’t be enough. And they are lucky that what black people are looking for is equality and not revenge.
The most historic time that I’ve experienced in my memory has been interrupted with another event and now global social movement. Now, all of those commercials that begin with “In these unprecedented times…” are not specific enough. Which extraordinary event are we referring to?
Because of that, I’m now viewing and processing most I read, watch, and listen to through the lens of global pandemic and equity social justice. Those two, like everything are actually connected. Yesterday I read two items that helped me begin to process these events.
Barbara Kingsolver said in an interview published in the March 2014 issue of The Sun:
Five hundred years ago people burned witches. two hundred and fifty years ago slavery was still acceptable. “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice,” said Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Those are the words I come back to on the bad days…like on the morning of the Boston Marathon bombing, or any other morning when hatred seems entrenched. The arc of history is so long you can’t see the end of it, so you don’t sense the movement. It’s an arc. It goes around to the other side of the horizon.
One way to draw an arc is to mathematically plot out precise points and then connect them. The closer together the points, the easier it is to draw an accurate arc. We are at a point on the arc of history. We are in a crucial moment in time our children and grandchildren will read about, reflect on, learn from, analyze, and evaluate.
Tim O’Brien reflected on his decision to go to the Vietnam War in his 2019 book , Dad’s Maybe Book (p. 85):
I was aware that the war had done things to me that could not be undone. Partly, I guess, I was full of anger. There was guilt, too, and lots of it. I had betrayed my conscience – my own heart and my own head – by going to a war I considered unjust. I had participated in a killing, and I had done so out of moral cowardice. There were no other words for it. I had been afraid of ridicule and embarrassment. I had been afraid of displeasing others, including my parents and my hometown and my country, and when you do things you believe are wrong because you were afraid to not do them, you cannot call it anything but what it is, and the correct word is cowardice.
The last two weeks are forcing the white supremacist majority culture to confront our (including me) moral cowardice. We have looked away or done things we knew were wrong. That was moral cowardice. In this moment we can do the hard work of reflection, analysis, conversation, and action to connect the last point on the arc to the next, and the next; or we can once again turn away and remain silent or worse, do more of the same. This would be moral cowardice.
I hope we have the courage to stand up this time.
I will stand up to, and face down our personal and systemic racism. I will be heard and seen, no matter how difficult and uncomfortable, advocating for equity, lifting voices that need to be heard, giving of myself, my time, my money, and my privilege to remove barriers to equality.
It will be difficult. It will require that I possibly clash with friends and family and maybe even painfully part ways with some. It will mean I as part of the the dominant white supremacist majority must share power and wealth, and give up advantage and privilege.
I begin by listening. Truly listening and hearing the stories of deep pain I have participated in causing and allowing those voices to lead what we do in this moment in time.