Am I the only one who is suddenly feeling like something I’m doing during this time actually matters?
Yeah, sure. Isolating at home has made a difference, but it was so….isolating. Engaging with the outside world was mostly watching horror stories I could do nothing about.
There are new horror stories, yes. But there is more dialogue about civil rights and justice than I recall seeing ever in my half-century plus on this planet. All over the world, Black people are speaking out…and attempts to marginalize their words and actions are failing. Police reform is on the table. White people are reading and discussing works by Black authors. Rage is not being dismissed out of hand. Hell, the NFL has admitted it was wrong to oppose the peaceful protests of Colin Kaepernick.
Don’t get me wrong—it’s not kittens and unicorns. People are dying in these protests. Police brutality continues in many places. The Danger Yam has continued his Twitter shitstorm, cowering behind barriers in a darkened White House. But the sense is that the momentum is with Black Lives Matter. And it’s not just this white chick who thinks this. I read this transcript today of a dialogue between Ezra Klein and author Ta-Nehesi Coates. Coates has hope, based on this very thing—the fact that the protests are occurring everywhere—not just in a large city or two—and are attracting more and more white people. (Reading this also made me realize that I need to read more of Coates’ writing, because he’s amazing.)
A few other signs of awakening: The Stratford Festival has paused its film festival and is instead live-streaming a discussion with nine Black members of the Festival, past and present, tomorrow. Watching the filmed plays over the past few weeks, along with attending two productions last year, I had been struck as to how more diverse the Festival had become since I had last visited in the 90s. In Love’s Labour’s Lost, for instance, three of the four ladies of France were Black. Had this season happened, as I recall they were set to do Hamlet with a Black lead. I’m not sure how well this diversity translated to behind-the-scenes staff, but hopefully I’ll hear that on tomorrow’s livestream. And I expect the participants will be brutally honest. The town of Stratford is, outside the Festival, a farm community that is 95% white. And let’s face it—Shakespeare is an old, dead white guy, and the audiences who come to see his plays skew largely to a certain demographic. But what I am seeing now is a willingness to give Black people space to speak, and a willingness for the rest of us to truly listen, not just to nod and smile and to forget about it. (It’s early days, of course…but I have hope).
And it’s personal. Today, I saw a chance to use my persuasive skills to challenge someone to make a difference—and it might just bear fruit. (The worst they could say is “no.”). And I am seeing signs that this might just be my next rabbit hole. Between contemporary writers and broadening my understanding of history, there is much to learn, and I am eager to do so and to share what I find—particularly with other white people.
There is still a very long way to go. You don’t simply erase over 400 years of oppression with the magnanimous wave of a lily-white hand. Bad cops are going to be a pain to get rid of. The alt-right is still out there hoping to provoke a race war—and Russia is doing what Russia does with trolls and bots. There is still an election up for stealing, and voters to suppress, and….oh yeah, a pandemic that hasn’t just disappeared. There is a lot fo worry about. But yes, hope. There is that.