monuments and syrup bottles and The Dixie Chicks and Marie Kondo
In the past month, I've been filling gaps in my education. I've learned about redlining, Juneteenth, The Negro Motorist Green Book, and the Tulsa Race Massacre. I learned that George Washington's dentures were not wooden; but instead, were made from the teeth of slaves. I read about J. Marion Sims, the "father of gynecology" who performed experimental vaginal treatments and surgeries on enslaved women -- without anesthesia. I do not recall any of these things being taught in school. Maybe they were, and I was too preoccupied with my own white girl teenage angst to remember, but I don't think so.
It seems history is bubbling up through cracks in the sidewalk and flooding the street. Old stories (not that old) of brutality and dehumanization are coming with it, old criminal cases, reopened, re-investigated. Like the killing of Elijah.
Yesterday, I learned of Elijah McClain and wept. This sweet boy who played violin for kittens and apologized for being different and an introvert as he was being killed last year while walking home from a convenience store and listening to music.
In the meantime, a young Biracial woman in Wisconsin was set on fire by four White men Thursday as she sat behind the wheel of her car at a red light.
In my own town, DarQuan Jones, a young Black man, was attacked by three White men a month ago, beaten, dragged to a creek, and his head held underwater until passersby intervened.
Yesterday I watched the video of a white woman wrapping herself in a Confederate flag and telling BLM protesters she would teach her grandkids to "hate you all".
I keep thinking the world has gone mad. But in Swords and Plows and the Great Unmasking, Rob Bell backtracks into Biblical history to reveal a societal trend: in order to create a New World, the current one must first be laid completely bare. If we are going to expose the uglies we've hidden in our collective American closet, we certainly picked the perfect naked emperor for the job. He has pulled out the worst, basest parts of our wounded and unhealed humanity.
And so I correct my thinking: The world has not "gone mad". It was already mad, and now the madness is exposed. So we can begin to heal, I hope. (We're going to need a different leader for that.)
Say what you will about the protests, but the message is finally heard. If you whisper and there is no response, and you speak plainly and there is no response, and you scream and there is no response, I suppose at some point, you must stop traffic and rattle the windows.
Maybe you've watched the video of Gary Chambers, Jr. passionately calling out the school board in Baton Rouge for their apathy, racism, and the shoddy reasoning behind not changing the name of Robert E. Lee High School. "Name it after the people who fought for the abolition of slavery," Chambers said, leaning over the podium. He lists other options, for example, Oscar Dunn, who was the first Black lieutenant governor of Louisiana. Incidentally, according to Wikipedia, Dunn died suddenly at the age of 45, still in office, with symptoms of arsenic poisoning. Although murder at the hands of political enemies was suspected, no evidence was found. This sounds familiar. Our current territory is not new.
Let's talk about the monuments and the syrup bottles and The Dixie Chicks and Marie Kondo.
According to the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC), as of February 1, 2019, there were 1,747 monuments honoring The Confederacy. The Confederacy, as you may recall, fought to maintain rights to keep slaves and to expand slavery into the western territories during the Civil War. These monuments honor men who believed Black people were livestock, bought and sold. In comparison, I found a list of 47 monuments honoring abolitionists. Even if this list of 47 was not comprehensive, even if it was only half, even if this list included only a quarter of monuments in this country honoring those who fought to free slaves... That is a WIDE gap. What does that gap say? What message does that send? And why is it so hard to understand why there might be a whole lot of people who think such a glaring disparity is worth addressing? I'm not the first to wonder.
Do we not want to be a kinder, gentler, more compassionate people? Who doesn't want that? Who are these people? Why would anyone not want that? What do they want instead? How could anything in the world be more important than being kinder, gentler, and more compassionate? Economic gain? A solid business deal? Comfort? If MILLIONS of people tell you that a picture on a syrup bottle makes them feel disrespected, the next two steps are very simple: (1) Believe them even if it is not your experience and even if there are a dozen people of color saying the syrup bottle is just fine with them; and (2); Change it. To you, it's a warm childhood memory of breakfast pancakes. So what? To others, it may be a symbol of a long and brutal history of dehumanization that has had decades and decades and decades of hurtful ripples.
The Dixie Chicks have changed their name to The Chicks. They have seven studio albums and two live albums spanning from 1990 to 2020. They have t-shirts and posters and websites and social media platforms and videos and documentaries and a fanbase. They have childhood memories growing up in the south, and you know what they did? They listened to millions of people express their pain, believed them, and said, "We want to meet this moment." Then, they let the rest go. They changed the name of their band -- their brand -- for the sake of a kinder, gentler, more compassionate, more self-aware humanity. And I love them for it.
Maybe it's because I've been cleaning out closets and the basement and talking to contractors about siding and brick veneers, but I think it's time for Marie Kondo. We need a redesign. We have decorated our country with tributes to slavery. Surely this does not suit us anymore. Surely it is time to redecorate. We have to declutter first.
Out of Kondo's 10 steps, these are my favorite 4:
Step 4: Ask, "Does this item bring me joy?"
That Robert E. Lee monument... does it bring us joy? That confederate flag... does it bring us joy? These cages for immigrant children on the southern border... Do they bring us joy? These military weapons in the hands of police... Do they bring us joy?
No? Then, discard. But first...
Step 5: Say "Thank you."
I'd like to amend this. I'd like to pull in the Ho'oponopono -- an ancient Hawaiian practice of forgiveness and making things right. Let's say, "I love you. I'm sorry. Please forgive me. Thank you" instead.
And then put it on the discard pile. Make room for joy. Make it right.
Step 8: "Know that it will look worse before it looks better."
We're here now. I believe this with all of my bones.
And Step 9: "Do and your children will follow."
Finally, here is "Hell You Talmbout" by Janelle Monáe, with Wondaland. The video features the Northwest Tap Connection, a justice-oriented dance studio in Seattle.