the weight of pretending pure

[An excerpt, a conversation, from a novel by Ta-Nehisi Coates about memory, connection and the heart of the Underground (Railroad)]:

“We can’t ever have nothing pure,” Robert said. “It’s always out of sorts. Them stories with their knights and maidens, none of that for us. We don’t get it pure. We don’t get nothing clean.”

“Yeah,” I said. “But neither do they. It is quite a thing, a messy dirty thing, to put your own son, your own daughter, to the Task.* Way I see it, ain’t no pure and it is we who are blessed, for we know this.”

” Blessed, huh?”

“Blessed, for we do not bear the weight of pretending pure. I will say that it has taken some time for me to get to that. Had to lose some folk and truly understand what that loss mean. But having been down, and having seen my share of those who are up, I tell you, Robert Ross, I would live down here among my losses, among the muck and mess of it, before I would ever live among those who are in their own kind of muck, but are so blinded by it they fancy it pure. Ain’t no pure, Robert. Ain’t no clean.”

  • Ta-Nehisi Coates, The Water Dancer

*Refers to owners who gave their own children, born to enslaved mothers, into slavery.

means and ends

[A sermon by Peter Fitch yesterday reminded some of us of this powerful letter, and this excerpt]:

Over the past few years I have consistently preached that nonviolence demands that the means we use must be as pure as the ends we seek. I have tried to make clear that it is wrong to use immoral means to attain moral ends.

But now I must affirm that it is just as wrong, or perhaps even more so, to use moral means to preserve immoral ends.

justifying brutalities

[SSU staff and faculty chose this book to read together this term – a powerful and painful exposition. Here’s a taste:]

As a means of assigning value to entire swaths of humankind, caste guides each of us often beyond the reaches of our awareness. It embeds into our bones an unconscious ranking of human characteristics and sets forth the rules, expectations, and stereotypes that have been used to justify brutalities against entire groups within our species. In the American caste system, the signal of rank is what we call race, the division of humans on the basis of their appearance. In America, race is the primary tool and the visible decoy, the front man, for caste.

Race does the heavy lifting for a caste system that demands a means of human division. If we have been trained to see humans in the language of race, then caste is the underlying grammar that we encode as children, as when learning our mother tongue.

  • Isabel Wilkerson, Caste: The Origins of Our Discontents

being surprised by racism

[From an article on trauma and racism]:

When people react with horror and surprise to racist and violent incidents, they may not be aware that their reaction might not translate well for those most directly affected.

I confess that even though I am not surprised on a macro level, and I know that hateful incidents are part of a pattern of systemic racism, my immediate, unfiltered reaction to a horrific incident is often a combination of surprise and outrage (e.g., “I can’t believe that this just happened!!”). I need to check myself because I’ve learned that the expression of surprise can unintentionally have the impact of invalidating another’s experience or give the impression that I believe these incidents are, in fact, isolated. For this reason, I’m working to restrain that gut reaction!

Black people aren’t surprised. They are not surprised about #TamirRice, #TrayvonMartin #AiyanaJones #EricGarner, #SandraBland, #AhmaudArbery, #BreonnaTaylor, #GeorgeFloydand countless others. BIPOC in Canada are not surprised about #MissingandMurderedIndigenousWomen, #ColtenBoushi, #ChantalMoore, #MachaurMadut, #RegisKorchinskiPaquet, and so on. For those who recognize the impact of systemic and structural racism, there is no surprise.

What can I do? Reflect on my actions, learn from mistakes, read more, learn more, acknowledge more, invite feedback, and listen to what BIPOC say they need and want. These are good things that anyone can and should be doing!

tension

You may well ask: “Why direct action? Why sit ins, marches and so forth? Isn’t negotiation a better path?” You are quite right in calling for negotiation. Indeed, this is the very purpose of direct action. Nonviolent direct action seeks to create such a crisis and foster such a tension that a community which has constantly refused to negotiate is forced to confront the issue. It seeks so to dramatize the issue that it can no longer be ignored. My citing the creation of tension as part of the work of the nonviolent resister may sound rather shocking. But I must confess that I am not afraid of the word “tension.” I have earnestly opposed violent tension, but there is a type of constructive, nonviolent tension which is necessary for growth.

  • Martin Luther King, Jr., “Letter from a Birmingham Jail”