I had a happy day today. Lovely weather, long bike ride, inspired piano, delicious dinner. Perfect night to enjoy some Seinfeld re-runs. Instead I chose to watch the documentary Thirteen.
I think I understand a lot about my country’s true history, but like all of us, I have my blind spots. Of course, the powers-that-be would prefer that I have many more blind spots—everything I learned was not from the government’s encouragement, my teachers’ encouragement, my family or neighbor’s encouragement. But even with the efforts I’ve made to understand how everything in today’s news is fed directly from yesterday’s true history, there’s so much I still don’t know. And Thirteen helped me learn it.
And you, dear reader. Have you ever heard of ALEC? Understand the ramifications of the 1994 Crime Bill? Know about CCA or SB1070? Thought about the details of the purposeful manufacture of the New Jim Crow that fosters mass incarceration of some 2 million people, 40% of them black and at great profit to some private businesses? How many of us know about the murder of Fred Hampton? And the list goes on.
If you’ve gone so far as to read this, please follow up and watch this film (free on Netflix/ Amazon Prime). As I wrote a couple of posts back, “if only I had known” is no longer an acceptable excuse. There are a thousand ways to know now and a thousand reasons to know now and this is just one possibility on the list. But put it on your list.
As I mentioned last blog post, this film requires heavy emotional labor. After the whimsy of the day, it was down into the depth of grief. The machinations of purposefully manufactured systematic evil in this country I have tried hard to love my whole life is even worse than I thought. And the needless suffering it has imposed on people who did nothing to deserve it has me sinking into the well of grief.
I’ve been there before and it’s not light and airy, though more livable than the windowless cells where innocent people are sentenced to spend a lifetime. I have the luxury of just stepping out, as simple as changing the channel. But I don’t want to. I want to sit with it and feel it and let it sink deeper into the bones so I can rise up with yet more determination to do my tiny part. I want to feel it like that three-day West African funeral.
I think we all should. The facts are the facts and we better start learning them, the number of people finally waking up is also real and sometimes inspiring and hopeful, but the grief is the missing piece in our cultural stuckness. Grief brings any airy hopes of "what can't we all just get along?" down to the ground, grief is the proof of who's serious and who's casual, grief is the price we pay back for all the looting our ancestors did. Without grief, we either have repression—"don't want to feel bummed out so I'll just pass it by"—or depression—"since I won't go down willingly, it will press on me from above." Without grief, we're stuck in the quagmire of all the untold truths, all the unhealed brutalities, all the unmourned murdered. It is the weeping that is necessary to help heal the wandering ghosts, to help cleanse our tainted bodies, hearts and minds, to get this ship rising on the waters of our tears and moving to the promised land.
Leave room for grief.