Too often I have written blog posts about tragedies, violence, injustice. From attacks in other parts of the world to devastation right here in the USA, I have expressed sorrow, anger—and often a feeling of solidarity with those who have suffered, are suffering. Readers have pointed out that my compassion, like other forms of attention, is selective. There are plenty of injustices that have gone unremarked in this space, either because of my own ignorance or my judgments about what I should be writing about in this Roth on Wesleyan blog.
I have followed the news reports and commentaries closely over the last week. What horror unfolds before us! The brutal killings by police officers in Minnesota and Louisiana and the vicious murders of police officers in Dallas that followed have underscored how violence can destroy individual lives while shaking communities to the core. I don’t have any wisdom of my own to offer at this painful, confusing time, but I thought I’d pass along a few of the thoughts I’ve come across recently that seemed helpful.
Michael Eric Dyson, professor and social critic, writes searingly in “Death in Black and White“:
The nation as a whole feels powerless now. A peaceful protest turned into the scene of a sniper attack. Day in and day out, we feel powerless to make our black lives matter. We feel powerless to make you believe that our black lives should matter. We feel powerless to keep you from killing black people in front of their loved ones. We feel powerless to keep you from shooting hate inside our muscles with well-choreographed white rage.
Former police captain and Brooklyn borough president Eric L. Adams writes:
I hear those saying the time just for talk is over—and I agree. Talk, and the greater freedoms of speech and expression that it encompasses, are national imperatives that should deliver a more righteous tomorrow. But the next step after talk is not violence, it is concrete action.
Action means common-sense gun reform. Time and again, this has been stonewalled by a do-nothing Congress, which has helped turn a ban on high-capacity assault weapons into a controversial issue. This has to change. Action means urgent attention to the mental health epidemic that plagues our nation. This epidemic is blind to a person’s background and profession, yet unattended it can distort the honest, passionate rhetoric of protest into the delusional hate of dangerous radicalization.
Wesleyan professor, anthropologist, and performer Gina Athena Ulysse, as usual, gives us much to think about in her Pedagogies of the Traumatized:
We can’t keep running away from the past. Besides, social media has assured we can only run so far; the brutality that used to happen in private is now ever so public. My optimism wanes and my patience continues to be tried with each new extra judicial killing, each exoneration. Each one is more confirmation of the deep rootedness of our inequality. We bear the weight of history so unequally. It is written on our bodies and etched in the color of our skin. Human chattel. Property. Slaves. That is the undue burden, the inequity we live with, that simply cannot be undone unconsciously. Its transformation, if that (I am not naïve), requires so much more than will. To bring about a modicum of change we must not only intentionally attempt, but also be determined, to shift. It will not happen par hazard. Because history has seen to it that the exchange, use, and sign value ascribed to Black lives remains unequal to that of Whites. We are differentially positioned and invested.
Yale philosopher Chris LeBron recently noted that the differences among us have less to do with the facts of any specific encounter than with our will to change how we live. Harvard political theorist Danielle Allen asks whether we can hold ourselves together as a people—”we cannot be a people and be at war with ourselves.” And Gina Athena Ulysse ends her post by asking: “Where is your outrage as we all bear witness to this moment?”
We can turn our witnessing and our outrage toward justice, justice informed by education as well as generosity and care. This will mean making our own campus a place of greater equity and inclusion as we engage as citizens to end this awful cycle of racism and violence.