Heart Broken Open; and, An Embarrassment of Justice
Consider the first three words in the image above: Equality, Equity, Liberation. We’ll visit the fourth panel later. You would think that I, of all people, known in some circles as a word wizard, would know that words matter. They do. I’d be the first person to say so.
Then why didn’t I know there is a difference between Equality and Equity?
Look at the image again.
In equality, everyone is given the same resources to look over the fence.
In equity, everyone is given the resources they need to look over the fence.
Of course, in liberation, there is no fence.
I am deeply spiritually indebted to Dr. Kihana Miraya Ross, author of “Call It What It Is: Anti-Blackness — When Black people are killed by the police, “racism” isn’t the right word.” Dr. Ross is a professor of African-American studies.
In one essay in yesterday morning’s New York Times, she graciously exploded both the innocent and ignorant complacency that have been mine as an educated, privileged, white woman. There was no calling out. There wasn’t even any calling in.
No, there was a call, a clarion call, to a willingness to educate myself and to be educated by those who know much more than I do. I am appalled at how little I am educated on the subject of racial justice.
Dr. Ross wrote, “The word ‘racism’ is everywhere. It’s used to explain all the things that cause African-Americans’ suffering and death: inadequate access to health care, food, housing and jobs, or a police bullet, baton or knee. But ‘racism’ fails to fully capture what black people in this country are facing.”
I had a feeling about this. At bottom, the word racism seemed a little too pat to me. Not, mind you, that I had even a fillip of a suggestion as to how to replace it, or what to replace it with. It’s just that I tend to be wary of strokes that are too broad.
Most of that wariness comes from the shopping bags that masquerade as diagnoses from the psych world and its various insurance codes. When you deal with psychological issues, they manifest in individuals. So do racist incidents.
Dr. Ross tells me that “[t]he right term is ‘anti-blackness.’” She clarifies, “To be clear, ‘racism’ isn’t a meaningless term. But it’s a catch-all that can encapsulate anything from black people being denied fair access to mortgage loans, to Asian students being burdened with a ‘model minority’ label. It’s not specific.”
When I read that, my unnamed feeling about the word was clarified. It is too broad. Okay.
“Many Americans, awakened by watching footage of Derek Chauvin killing George Floyd by kneeling on his neck, are grappling with why we live in a world in which black death loops in a tragic screenplay, scored with the wails of childless mothers and the entitled indifference of our murderers. And an understanding of anti-blackness is the only place to start.”
I’d never even heard the term before. I am not proud of this, but I am willing to be educated. Always.
“Anti-blackness is one way some black scholars have articulated what it means to be marked as black in an anti-black world. It’s more than just ‘racism against black people.’ That oversimplifies and defangs it. It’s a theoretical framework that illuminates society’s inability to recognize our humanity — the disdain, disregard and disgust for our existence.”
“Anti-blackness describes the inability to recognize black humanity. It captures the reality that the kind of violence that saturates black life is not based on any specific thing a black person — better described as ‘a person who has been racialized black’ — did. The violence we experience isn’t tied to any particular transgression. It’s gratuitous and unrelenting.”
I’d never heard that term either: “racialized black.”
I knew this concept in a different context: “socialized female.”
It never occurred to me that race, much like gender, is a construct. I’d always thought of race as simply fact, like the simple fact that I have red hair.
I’ve heard autism defined as a spectrum of neuro-divergence; gender is now approached as a spectrum. Is race a spectrum as well? It depends upon your influences, doesn’t it? Have we shortened what is really racialism to racism in the attempt to de-emotionalize it? I don’t know any of the answers — yet. But I’m finally asking the questions.
Kathleen McCartney is the President of Smith College where I earned my undergraduate degree. I got an email from her in my inbox yesterday. Here is some of what it said:
“It is time to acknowledge that the work of anti-racism is white people’s work. As we bear witness to the entrenched pain of Black people who are telling us that they are ‘not okay,’ we must learn how to be more effective allies by truly reflecting on our privilege-and risking that privilege in moments that matter. Beyond vigils, beyond marches, we must commit ourselves to learning and to action.”
I took comfort from the call to learning. I am convinced that only when we are willing to learn will we ever be able to discern appropriate actions. One of the appropriate actions is, I’m sure, justice. But I don’t know what forms that should take.
President McCartney again, “We must name white supremacy and anti-Blackness — society’s unwillingness to recognize the humanity of Black people — for what it is and dismantle the structural barriers that keep racism alive.
“I realize that much work awaits us. Yesterday, I saw a protester with a sign reading ‘Silence costs lives.’ I will not be silent, even though I know I will make mistakes. And I will also be listening to and learning from others as we move forward as a community.”
I have not been silent, nor am I likely to be in the future. I appreciated Dr. McCartney’s self-acknowledgement that she will likely make mistakes. Me, too, to coin a phrase.
Friends of mine own a small business in Cambridge, MA called gather here. They teach all kinds of crafting, and they win Best of Boston annually. The owners sent out their June Newsletter today bearing this fact. “Perhaps you didn’t realize that 1,028 people have been shot and killed by police in the past year.” They recommended actions to take today, organizations to support today, and they closed with “We’re not giving up and neither should you,”
And that, Beloved, is the point. We mustn’t give up. In fact, none of us can afford to give up because if we do, nothing will change. And the moment for change is this one.
Dr. Ross wrote, “The thingification of black people is a fundamental component of the identity of this nation. Reckoning with this reality is significantly more difficult than wrestling with prejudice, racism, and even institutional or structural racism. … So let’s stop saying racism killed George Floyd, or worse yet, that a racist police officer killed George Floyd. George Floyd was killed because anti-blackness is endemic to, and is central to how all of us make sense of the social, economic, historical and cultural dimensions of human life.”
Is there a solution? There has to be. Immediately? No. Could there be? I don’t know, but what I do know is that person after person is saying don’t give up. The message of the protesters is that they aren’t giving up.
Prisoners in an ICE detention center, unprotected from Covid-19, aren’t giving up.
The Mayor of Atlanta, Keisha Lance Bottoms, isn’t giving up.
A couple days ago, she wrote, “I know that as a mayor of one of the largest cities in our country, I should now be offering solutions. But the only comforting words I have to offer so far are those that I know to be most true: that we are better than this; that we as a country are better than the barbaric actions that we are forced to keep watching play out on our screens like a grotesque horror movie stuck on repeat. We are better than the hatred and anger that consumes so many of us. We are better than this deplorable disease called racism that remains so rampant.”
Former president Barack Obama took the same tone as former president George W. Bush. That was novel.
President Bush said, “‘Those who set out to silence those voices do not understand the meaning of America — or how it becomes a better place.”
“Mr. Obama struck a similar tone, saying the overall message of the protests was simple, admirable and unifying: ‘See me, I’m human,’ he said.”
Linda Greenhouse reports on The Supreme Court for The New York Times. She reported yesterday on a dissenting opinion written by Justice Brett Kavanaugh.
“Here’s what’s wrong with the Kavanaugh opinion: He throws words around imprecisely in a context where precision is everything. The state’s rules ‘discriminate.’ We’re all against discrimination. But what does this potent word mean? To discriminate, in the way law uses the word, means to treat differently things that are alike, without a good reason for doing so. That’s why racial discrimination, for example, is almost always unconstitutional. People are people regardless of their race, and the government needs a powerful reason for using race to treat people differently.”
Except, given the explicit work explained by Dr. Ross, perhaps it doesn’t. Perhaps that discrimination is so written into the fabric of our nation that thinking people like me, liberal as the day is long, never even knew I was missing my half of the Velcro necessary to understand the anti-Black bias — and I’m sure it’s not just anti-Black; there are probably a whole lot of other anti-s.
I know I have hurt others by my innocent ignorance. It has not been willful or malicious, but that does not mitigate the hurt that my unconscious behaviors have caused. Anu Garg’s Word-A-Day quoted novelist-philosopher Leo Tolstoy yesterday; it was his birthday. “I sit on a man’s back, choking him and making him carry me, and yet assure myself and others that I am very sorry for him and wish to ease his lot by all possible means — except by getting off his back.”
We privileged white persons need to climb down off the backs of anyone we have denigrated because of their differences from us. We, like President McCartney, need to be willing to listen, learn, and make mistakes. We, like my friends at gather here, need to take action.
Perhaps the achingly heartfelt words of Meghan Markle, Duchess of Sussex, speaking to the graduating class of her alma mater, Immaculate Heart High School, will serve as a good guide? A teacher of hers recommended that she and her classmates “always remember to put others’ needs above your own fears.”
Revisit the last panel in the illustration above.
Can you see the greyed-out words? Your Idea Here.
We must, like the young women of Immaculate Heart High School, “lead with love, lead with compassion.” We must lead each one of ourselves and one another into Equity, Liberation, & Your Idea Here — fill in the blank, Beloved, and answer the call.
Dr. Susan Corso is a metaphysician and medical intuitive with a private counseling practice for more than 35 years. She has written too many books to list here. Her website is www.susancorso.com
© Dr. Susan Corso 2020 All rights reserved.