My friend Frankie sent me another link this week to educate myself about race. This one was about mass incarceration. We’d watched the documentary, Thirteenth, together last summer when she visited the beach with me, though it’s not really a beach kind of movie.
If you’re not familiar with this documentary, you’ll learn a lot about oppression starting with former President Obama’s opening words about America – the country with 5 percent of the world’s population has 25 percent of the world’s prisons. He’s referring to the 2.2 million people in prison – an increase of 500% over the past forty years. Take a look.
I try to educate myself. I’ve read the new populists – Ibram Kendi, Robin D’Angelo, Bryan Stevenson, Debby Irving, Eddie Glaude. I’ve read great novelists – California Cooper and Ann Petry, Britt Bennett and Zadie Smith – and the perennial Black authors – Zora, Toni, Maya, James, Langston and some of the North Carolina stories – Blood Done Called My Name, Cape Fear Rising/Wilmington’s Lie, Troubled Ground: A Tale of Murder, Lynching, and Reckoning in the New South. And don’t forget the video list from Netflix – Marshall, Just Mercy, Thirteenth, When They See Us.
I’m getting tired.
Well, damn. Imagine how Frankie feels. How tired every Black person in America is.
Yeah, Frankie is the Black woman and I’m the white woman. We’re both doing the hard work, but she’s been doing it all her life. I’m a relative newcomer. She’s not the first to school me in Black History. She probably won’t be the last.
Sometimes we work together. After posting one of my newspaper columns about race to Facebook (part of my work), Frankie dug in and responded to comments trying to educate folks. That’s part of her work.
This summer, we both marched in different states, but for many of the same reasons – to fight against the yoke of oppression, to end the murder of Black persons, to call attention to the need for justice reform, and hopefully, to finally, get America on a path for reparations.
Those worldwide protests after George Floyd’s murder lit a fire under the bottoms of some folks. For others, that fire has long been lit. Regardless of when you joined, welcome, dig in, and stay steady for the hard work ahead.
There’s lots to be done. Try these three – denounce narratives, consume media wisely, and vote because our lives depend upon the work you do.
It will be hard work to fight against the dominant narrative that Black people do not have the same dignity and worth as white people because of their skin color.
That story that has been told since 1619 and it continues today in too many scripted and unscripted narratives. I remain hopeful that it’s being told less and less and will eventually fade to the history of who we once were, not who we are.
It’s a story based in white supremacy and the panic of losing. It was supported by slavery, the legacy of lynching, and fear that put many innocent men and women on death row and denied them employment, housing, education.
It’s a story told in bars and schoolyards, preached in some churches, manifested in government policies and discriminatory laws. The narrative that robbed generations of men and women of dignity and worth can end today, because each of us has the choice to learn the true story. Each of us can participate in creating a nation of justice and liberty … for all.
It will be hard work to fight against the 24-hour news cycle that obfuscates important needs with trivial worries. We must fight the media spotlight that demands us to shift our attention to the next hot issue.
America’s become a land of overloaded, distracted, short-attention-span individuals. We made ourselves that way. Some blame technology and the World Wide Web for our overexposure. Marshall McLuhan, the Canadian philosopher, warned us in his 1960s book, The Medium is the Massage, that constant media exposure skewed our perceptions and tampered with our emotions. That’s a simplification of his theory, but it helps explain why we feel so assaulted when consuming too much media, social or otherwise. There’s a simple fix.
We choose to turn on the TV, check our cellphones, scroll endlessly through Facebook, etc. etc. etc. We can make other choices. We can limit what we consume, become savvier about messages sent to us, from whom, and for what purposes.
It will be hard work to make sure every American of legal age votes in the upcoming election. It was hard work to pass the Fifteenth Amendment, the Nineteenth, the Voting Rights Act, and the 24th Amendment. Read them again, then vote with your feet. Canvass your neighborhood in a voter registration drive, make phone calls reminding folks to vote, and provide rides to the polls on election day.
Vote to change the narrative. Vote to restore justice and to repair the breach. Vote for equity, for education, employment, and a living wage.
Vote as your brother and sister’s keeper because the hard work ahead asks you to do that. Asks you to dig in. To stay steady and keep a-going.
A story that is older than this country and perpetuated for generations will take a long struggle, to snuff it out. But for all of us, that’s the hard work we are called to do. Come join Frankie and me.