You guys! Well, here I am. I’ve been absent for a while because I’ve been dealing with some problems digesting my steady diet of disappointment and rage. It’s just not been sitting well with me. I’ve tried to quietly go about living my life, doing good where I can. Donating to causes I believe in. And my stomach still churns with the acid of disappointment and malcontent. And so, folks, as is the case in most of these situations—it’s time to write. It’s time to end my dyspeptic existence.
What really made me think about writing this was a post I came across on Facebook. I’m rarely on social media these days (because of stupid and mean) except for Instagram and a mild stalking of friends on Twitter (I NEVER tweet). Anyway, on one of my daily scrolls, I read a heart-breaking post from a former student. It was so thoughtful and articulate I had to respond with some words of encouragement. And she responded back to me: “I knew you would respond.” She knew I would respond. And that got me to thinking, maybe I should be more vocal. Maybe instead of ingesting all my rage and disappointment and pressing it down, I should speak up a little more. Because maybe it’s not JUST me.
Here’s what. For some reason in our country there is this huge anti-intellectual movement. Do you think it’s an accident that textbooks in schools are outdated and filled with misinformation or outright untruths? I remember one time, during an AP English class, we were discussing the Tulsa Race Riots. (We were preparing to read Ellison’s Invisible Man) And the students were intrigued and outraged because no one had ever talked about this or taught this. And probably right now, some of you are like “I’ve never heard about this either.” (Google it) This is part of our history, why is it excluded? Why are the accomplishments of people of color rarely or never discussed in history books? And we wonder why we still have a problem with racism in our country. Puh-lease.
But I BELIEVE in education. I believe in challenging thoughts/beliefs previously held. I mean why not be challenged to account for what you believe? This is the very practice that helps us grow and develop and evolve into our better selves, and honestly, who doesn’t want that? From where I’m sitting, it seems like there are many who are just content to reside in their own little bubbles and disregard it all.
Like people are aware of actual facts and truths and choose to ignore them. Or conveniently brush them aside because “they don’t affect me”. Yeah, that’s terrible and all, but look how cute my puppy is. (I’m not criticizing anyone who posts cute pictures of their puppies…believe me, they get me through many a bad day). But when I see such benign reactions or no reactions at all to the horrendous happenings that are disgracing our country, I wonder: how can we keep silent? Where is our outrage? Where is our compassion? Where is our humanity?
Here’s another example. Again scrolling on Facebook and come across another comment this one regarding the closing of all Starbuck’s stores in the US for “sensitivity” training after recent events of blatant racism and/or racial profiling in several of their stores. And one comment on a thread was: “I just wanted my pink drink. I was pissed I couldn’t get it.” And I’m left here thinking, oh, dear. Poor you. You have to go ONE day without your pink drink. That’s awful. Imagine for just a minute, though, how “pissed” a mother was when her son (black) was asked to leave a Starbucks while his mother (white) was waiting outside. He was asked to leave supposedly because no unaccompanied minors could be in the store, (even though he told him his mother was there) even though there were loads of other teens in the same store who were alone and not asked to leave. You can guess why. So, for just a MINUTE can we set aside our minor inconvenience and think about WHY this is happening?
And this is how we go. We go along blindly and blithely living our lives of privilege while others are suffering. I just can’t with this anymore. When you know better, you do better. Period.
I was watching Schindler’s List the other day because 1. Liam Neeson and 2. Hope. Honestly, that movie changed me. Truly. When I was asked to teach American History one year, at the private school where I worked, I asked the students what they wanted to know more about. I mean, I didn’t really have any curriculum, but I love history, and I thought why not see what kids don’t know, and what they’d like to know more about. I had 11 students in that class, and it was one of my favorites ever! So, they told me they wanted to know more about events like the Holocaust and Vietnam. I thought using movies to supplement our studies was a good idea. A professor from Tulane was also gracious enough to send me his notes on his study of Oscar Schindler, so after discussing those, we watched the film. However, before I showed the film, I sent home permission letters in case some parents didn’t want their kids to see the graphic movie. (As a parent, I would have appreciated that). I got one little push back. This was the concern: why do we teach about the Holocaust at all? It’s just too sad and depressing. (Insert giant eyeroll here). Sorry, but in all my years of teaching, I just cannot find a way to make the Holocaust more palatable. It is what it is. But most of the parents wrote back lovely notes of support and encouragement and were happy that someone was telling the truth. (Like this is a novel concept in education!!)
Oscar Schindler. Committed to his country’s view of nationalism. Ardent supporter of the Nazi party. Playboy, philanderer, rich guy consumed in a glutinous lifestyle of drinking, women and allegiance to his beloved party. Until he wasn’t. Until he saw with his own eyes what the Nazis were really up to. Until his unlikely relationship with his bookkeeper helped him to see that the Jews were HUMANS not animals. That they, like he, wanted to live, and work, and celebrate and enjoy life. And guess what? Did he go blindly along with his allegiance to his beloved party? Did he brush aside all the suffering and tell himself, “eh, this is pretty bad and all, but it doesn’t really affect me”? Nope. He did not. He did the opposite. He did everything in his power to save as many Jews as he could. At the end of the movie, as we all collapsed in giant puddles of gut-wrenching sobs, Schindler is looking at his car and says: “this could have saved 10 more”, his wedding ring, “this could have saved 5 more”…and oh my God, it is a brutal and beautiful moment where we see this man completely and utterly changed for the better because he found his humanity. And God knows, we could use some of that in America again.
If it is true, once we know better, we must do better, then we’ve got some work to do. We are not doing better as a society. However, there are individuals who are doing good things. Who, despite their anguish and rage, keep showing up time and time again fighting the good fight. These are the people I admire. The ones who have taken licks from the communities that once embraced them, who are daily trolled on social media, and who STILL show up and “speak truth to bullshit.” (Thank you Brené Brown for my new favorite maxim.) And I want to be that person too!! So, I will. I think I’m onto something here. And, if you are like me, and you really want to be that person who speaks truth to bullshit, then won’t you join me? One person can definitely make a difference. Was Oscar Schindler able to save all the Jews? No. But he certainly made a difference to the ones he did save. We are not obligated to fix all the hurts of our desperate world, but neither are we free to ignore them.
We must do better. Today seems like a good time to start.
Till next time,