4th of July 2020

Nothing changes if nothing changes.

It’s quiet and sweet on the front porch. Mike, across the street, is setting up his sprinkler. The birds are singing like it’s morning instead of late afternoon. The neighbor’s air conditioner hums but has stopped making the cranking noise every two minutes that has been its habit for weeks. It is hot everywhere but on this porch so I am grateful to be here.

We mowed the lawn and put our Black Lives Matter sign back in its place, flanking it with two small American flags. Down the street, in the next block, there are three or four other Black Lives Matter signs including a handwritten one taped to a living room window. We’re a little network, I guess, of folks who need to be clear what we think: Black Lives Matter.

Putting the sign on our lawn wasn’t a radical move for us. We’ve had careers rooted in community development and racial disparities have always been part of that environment. And I think we have had a positive impact or, maybe more accurately said, we have done positive things. And having done those things – working in Black agencies, supporting new community programs, trying to restore economically violated neighborhoods – we feel that even if what we did might end up being small and not trend-changing, our work was on the side of the angels.

So, of course, we pat ourselves on the back. We believe we were part of progress.

But looking around, reading, listening, and watching, it’s clear that what has changed in all these many years is the fringe on the cowboy shirt, the embroidery on the pillowcase, the edges of inequity, not the core. The core is as thick and buried and impenetrable as it has ever been.

Recently, Cobb County, Georgia, District Attorney Joyette Holmes, a Black woman, was appointed by the State Attorney General to take over the prosecution of the men charged in the killed of Ahmaud Arbery. She was interviewed on CNN and filmed walking down the steps of a courthouse in a tailored suit and stiletto heels, totally confident, strong, a woman to be envied and admired. And I said to my husband, pointing to her, “Some things have changed. We can’t think that there hasn’t been any progress.” So I felt happy about that, seeing that she was in this position of great authority as a victory for women and for Black people. And for the struggle, which I have been part of but in a safe way, working from a remote location, you might say.

Nothing changes if nothing changes.

There is the fact of District Attorney Holmes. But there is also the fact that she is prosecuting a murder in which three White men ran down and killed a Black man who was jogging on the street in broad daylight. It wasn’t even in the dark. They didn’t think they needed to hide what they were doing. Neither did Derek Chauvin. The look on Chauvin’s face when he has his knee on George Floyd’s neck tells you all you need to know about systemic racism in the United States.

So, obviously, despite all the changes in our country, all the Black district attorneys and judges, all the Black elected officials, all the Black doctors and business leaders, all the visible Black success, the core of what needs to change is unchanged. We continue to embroider. Now it’s more police training, more body cams, less military-grade equipment, Karen-shaming, and White Fragility book clubs. It’s a crush to point out the grievous errors and shortcomings of others as if being suddenly alert for other people’s racist behavior wins us favor, keeps the big spotlight from shining on our own flawed game. All of this finger pointing and calling out makes me tired of sewing and people who sew.

Nothing changes if nothing changes.

We own, each one of us, each White one of us, the change that is needed. We own it with study, self-examination, and the making of amends. There is no easy way out of this horrible unearthing of America’s system racism except, as the life coaches always tell us, going right through the middle. We are who needs to change. Even the good of us, the hard-working of us, the right-minded of us, the ‘long career in the community’ of us. None of us gets to claim the territory of the righteous. That’s the message of the Black Lives Matter sign, the message of our sign. It’s not about other people. It’s about us.

We have work to do.

3 Comments on “4th of July 2020

  1. When you listed all the positions that some Blacks are allowed to have, I remembered that a co-worker of my husband, many years ago, asked what you call a Black doctor in Georgia. Answer: n****. I think we need to remember these kinds of jokes because underneath the spoken-out-loud desire for social justice of many people are racial attitudes that resent when Blacks have the audacity to be uppity (hold positions of power). I sure hope we can make progress this time, but I don’t know if there is a rock big enough for all the white supremacists to go back under.


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