I took an online class recently with a poet I’ve long admired and enjoyed it as I always do. Except I couldn’t help but notice that we were proceeding as if nothing had happened a few days earlier that merited some acknowledgement. And that made me feel uncomfortable.
So I crafted a letter which I hope to send soon and hope it can get to the poet. Should I share part of it here? I think yes, both because the issue I bring up is our collective issue and because it might be an example of being an ally, of taking the step to speak out when it would be so easy and convenient to say nothing. If the model inspires you to do the same in situations you might encounter, then it is well worth the effort. Decide for yourself. Here's the letter:
Your online classes have been a great pleasure to attend. It seems that we all need a place where we can be sheltered from the news of the day, a respite from the constant battering of the storms of the headlines. A place where we can consider humanity’s timeless and universal questions.
And yet. We all exist in a particular time and a particular place that offer their own questions to consider and ask to be invited into the larger conversation. As you often say, the conversation you don’t want to have is precisely the one you need to have and might that be as true collectively as it is personally?
The conversation we keep refusing as a nation (for over 400 years!) is looking at our legacy of racial injustice fueled by a white supremacist narrative. One of the most hopeful signs of this last turbulent year is the increased willingness of white folks to finally break our silence of complicity. That books like How to Be an Anti-Racist, So You Want to Talk About Race, Me and White Supremacy, White Fragility and yet more have become best sellers is a hopeful sign. And yet armed white folks encouraged by the President can storm the Capitol during a sacred democratic rite of transfer of power without even trying to hide themselves and with hardly any resistance from the police— you know the story. 14,000 people arrested in a peaceful Black Lives Matter protest, 50 arrested during the recent attempted coup.
And so I felt uncomfortable in your last session that you made the briefest of passing references to our dark times and we proceeded to consider how to cultivate our future happiness as if nothing had happened. I imagine most of the listeners are white and it felt like yet another example of our unearned privilege to have the needed individual conversations while continuing to deflect the needed collective ones.
What would feel most useful to me is to consider how to join the two, to look at how each can feed the other, to put the timeless and timely together in the same room to talk. It’s all well and good for our yoga instructors and Zen teachers to remind us to breathe, but perhaps we should consider that this is precisely what George Floyd requested as that policemen kept his knee on his neck for nine minutes until his life was extinguished— and with little consequence and no trial for murder because of our habit of silence. So as much as I enjoyed some of your recent talk, I felt that elephant loom large in the room and I imagine—indeed, would hope—that others might too.
As you have given me so much food for thought over the years, I offer back this morsel for you to consider as you continue your important, needed and inspiring work. Thanks for listening.