Bryan Stevenson is a lawyer defending people on Death Row, a social justice advocate and author of the book Just Mercy (also made into a movie). I had the good fortune to hear him speak many years ago at an Education Conference and remembered his 4-step prescription for healing systemic racism.
1) PROXIMITY: Without spending time with people different from us, we are vulnerable to believing stereotypes of “the other” that blinds us to seeing our common humanity. Years after the legal end of Jim Crow, we remain—in our schools, our neighborhoods, our workplace— a mostly segregated society. When we start to hang out with each other, work together, play music together, party together, we can more easily refuse the call of the demagogues to demonize and hate and fear people who don’t look or act or think exactly like us. Proximity alone is not enough, but it is an important first step.
Beyond simply being together in the class or office or bandstand or basketball court, we need to talk to each other and hear each other’s stories. With special attention to the stories of our fellow workers/ students/ neighbors who have been marginalized. Hear the stories of the 52 times our son-in-law was pulled over for the crime of “driving while black.” Of the “me too” moments of women, the “coming out of the closet” tales of gay people. We must get “proximate” to suffering and understand the nuanced experiences of those who suffer from and experience inequality. (see my daughter Kerala Taylor’s article My Husband Doesn’t Feel Like Being Black Today for a look at the different experience of blacks and whites in America) : https://aninjusticemag.com/my-husband-doesnt-feel-like-being-black-today-538406254a5f?sk=3f05eee708d2e13de2941adfcc989e63
2) NARRATIVE: Our life is not what we experience as much as how we interpret what we experience. Or seen from another angle, our inherited assumptions—from our family, our schools, our churches and temples, our culture’s mainstream media—determine what we experience, give it a distinct shape and color, give it a meaning according to the narrative that we carry with us. That narrative is often unconscious, fed to us from the above sources without questioning until we read something, experience something, meet somebody, that makes us stop and question it.
The spoken and unspoken narrative of White Supremacy has driven our culture from its inception and continues to cause great damage in both subtle and overt ways. Black and white kids can be proximate to each other in the integrated school, but still not mix in the cafeteria or understand the different experiences they have in the same country or discuss how this narrative hurts them both. Without examining or understanding or questioning the assumptions of white supremacy, nothing will change.
3) DISCOMFORT: We must be willing to do things that are uncomfortable. Stevenson observed that fighting—sometimes in vain—for the rights of some of the most downtrodden members of society can feel uncomfortable. However, there is restorative power in doing so. He is committed to working for equality not only because he wants to fix a broken system, but because he recognizes his own brokenness in the brokenness of those he serves. It is extremely comfortable for teachers to teach that 1+1=2, Paris is the capital of France and 6/8 is called a compound musical meter, but extremely difficult to bring up the things that most people would rather not talk about. And that’s what keeps them going.
4) HOPE: Hope is a prime ingredient in working for social change. Without faith in the capacity of human beings to change, to re-consider, to become better versions of themselves, every teacher would change professions. Hope is also a verb, an active participation in giving feet to vision, muscle to our dream of what the world can be without any guarantee that it will become so. As former Czech President Vaclev Havel said:
Hope is not the conviction that something will turn out well but the certainty that something makes sense, regardless of how it turns out.
Justice makes sense. It is worthy of our hope.
How does Jazz fit into all of this? Stay tuned for Part III.