And so it begins…
This post was originally going to be titled, “Let it begin…” Something with a little more optimism, some hope, some glee. But all of those happy people feelings were dashed last night at 8:45pm.
At exactly 8:45pm last night, a large part of the student population at the large southern state school I attend received the following text message via our campus emergency alert system:
The monkey got out of the cage.
Up until this point I was having a good day. The candidate I voted for had just taken office with a tempered humility that I have to come admire and take comfort in. He had warned us of the long ardous journey ahead and assured us that we would still be standing at the end. Others around him celebrated his and the nation’s accomplishment(s), mainly that a majority of nation was willing to put a person of color, a minority, someone who does and does not look like them into the highest civil office of the land.
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Then mere hours afterward, I was brutally reminded of how far we haven’t come by the above text message. Racism is still rampant in this country. It is better hidden, in dark corners, spoken only in whispers and in ominous glances and stares most of the time. Occasionally it raises it’s bitter head to spit in our faces. I fear now, with the conspicuous presence of color in our nation’s capital, that we will be forced to face other’s prejudices uninhibited. We will be confronted with difficult decisions on a regular basis of how to engage, defend, and/or combat racist remarks and actions. But perhaps this is a good thing. Perhaps walking by the dark recesses in which racism has heretofore hid, pretending not to notice it loitering here and there, has not been such a good tactic. Perhaps, this forced confrontation with the prejudices within others and ourselves is exactly what we need right now. We are being forced, as a nation, to face the economic and foreign relations arrogance that has come to define “America” across the globe. So maybe it is time we also face our internal arrogance. We were arrogant to believe that racism was dying in the United States. That is far from the case. Across much of land, I would not hesitate to say that racism is flourishing, being brandished even.
I told my students today that our standard measure of time is insufficient to use when considering the struggle against racism. How can you measure the effect of over 200 years of slavery, and over 300 years of general legal discrimination? We cannot measure the healing process by years. If we must measure it, we must measure by generations. It has not been a long 40 years since the Voting Rights Act. It has been merely one generation. It has been only two generations since the heydey of lynchings and Jim Crow laws. It has been only three generations since the shackles and chains of slavery were broken. We have not yet had enough time to heal.
I have seen something new and great. Not an end, but a beginning. Not a goal met, but a step of an everlasting process. So I cannot say how many years it might be before we take another significant step in the progression of our own humanity. But I will echo President Obama’s own words. Let our children’s children say of us, “They did not solve the problems of society and of our greater humanity, but they did not stray from the path of positive and ethical progress.”