Saturday, June 20, 2020

Truth and Reconciliation

There are times when I lament that my voice is so small. When an inspired idea strikes in the realm of music education, I have the wherewithal to get it out to my cohort of colleagues in the form of workshop, article, book, Facebook post, etc. But if the idea is outside of that tiny lane, there’s no platform for it to spread and get traction.

I am certainly not the first to ever consider that the U.S. needs some form of Truth and Reconciliation Hearing or to suggest that this would be an enormous step toward healing the gaping wound of our forever-bleeding racism.  But in this very special time when the country seems ripe for getting serious about this, I haven’t heard anyone suggest this alongside the protests and statue-topplings and police reform and such. 

Simply put, I propose we hold a series of nationwide Truth and Reconciliation hearings. In schools, in Town Halls, on TV, on radio, everywhere and anywhere. The topic? “What has been your experience as a black person in the United States?” The speakers? Every single black person in the United States.

As a white person, I have thought about this topic my whole adult life, done considerable research into its history, given considerable thought as to its motivating causes and resistance to change and possibilities for healing, talked to black folks here, there and everywhere. I have a lot to say on the subject. And I do whenever the occasion presents itself and sometimes when it doesn’t and most of it in the context of jazz education.

But when it comes to telling the real stories that every single non-African American needs to hear and consider, I have nothing to say. Here we need to hear from each and every black person in this country. No need to select the authors or political activists or college professors. Every black person, (including mixed race folks who can’t “pass”) no matter what age, gender, class and so on, is eminently qualified to speak of their experience. The only criteria is to tell the truth. No need to elaborate with political analysis, historical perspective, statistical data. Just simply tell the stories of what happened to you not because of anything you said or did, but simply because you are a black person in the United States. No shame, no blame attached, just the facts, the things you lived through. Imagine the collective weight of story after story after story. The only challenge would be making some kind of limit, because there simply is not enough time in a human lifetime to hear all the stories. 

And somehow (stick with the idea, we’re smart enough to figure out the details), every white person in America would have to listen. They wouldn’t be allowed to comment, ask questions, raise objections. Just listen. Then go home, sit with it, consider it. 

And then the conversations could begin in earnest. 

Now I’m not na├»ve. I know that many simply can’t hear it because the price of re-thinking what they’ve been taught is too high for their emotional bank account. And others don’t want the story told because it interrupts their “get rich off of ignorance” program. But I firmly believe there is a significant population, most of whom vote, who might respond, “Wow. I had no idea.” And that would change everything. 

So simple. So powerful. So clear. So doable. 

Why don’t we do it? I mean, really, why don’t we?

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