This week has left a lot to be desired by way of belief in the goodness of humanity. Some people mourn; some people retreat; and some people look for a platform for their thoughts. My sister, Mikal Drye, asked that I share her thoughts on my blog, as a public space where she could engage with a community larger than what her social networks offer. Mikal and I have very different writing styles and means of expressing ourselves, but we have similar thought processes and very similar views on this week’s events. Last year at about this time, when I was living in Bosnia, I wrote this post commemorating the Charleston shooting. In January, I wrote this post regarding the racist-tinged hues around our experience of Cam Newton. The first has a recommended reading list attached, which I’ve also attached at the bottom of this post, updated with a few pieces I’ve read since then.
Please read, and share.
I’ve spent a lot of time trying to process the events of the past few days. At first I felt numb and outraged. I think that as a nation we were too stunned by so much violence in such quick succession to do more than mourn. As things settle down and we wake from the stifling grief of the past week, we’ve moved on to accusations. The nation feels as if it’s splitting, and it’s enough to make you scream that the whole world has gone insane.
It hasn’t. As painful, frustrating, and heartbreaking as the process is, we’re growing.
For centuries, white Americans have operated in a comfortable, insular world where it is acceptable to discriminate against other Americans because of the color of their skin. Discrimination against black Americans was quite literally enshrined in our constitution. It was only partially rectified in the 1860s. Some thought it was overcome in the 1960s. The events of the past week show that this is far from the truth. The wounds of the past have only barely begun to scab over.
Tacitly-accepted racism towards black Americans still exists today, and I’m guilty of participating. It’s there every time a white person unconsciously moves further away from a black man walking past. It’s there whenever a white family talks about sending their kids to “good schools” with the coded, uncomfortable understanding that “good schools” are those with students who are mostly white. It’s there when police shootings of black Americans have to be streamed live in order for the white community to accept them as fact.
We have insular mindsets but we no longer live in an insular world. Our country is dividing because technology makes it impossible to ignore the injustices systematically experienced by black Americans. For decades, we thought we were color-blind, but we drowned out the voices of those who told us otherwise because the truth was too hard for us to face. Now, mirrors are being held up to white Americans and we’re seeing ourselves in a very uncomfortable light. Self-reflection is never easy, but it’s valuable. How else are we to evolve?
The comfortable world we built on discrimination is fracturing, and it’s for the better. More than half of children in America’s public schools are not white. These bright, eager children are our future, and they deserve to grow up in a world where they have every bit as much opportunity as their white classmates. The diversity of our nation is our strength, but we can’t harness it until we address our longstanding biases. It won’t be quick or easy, but we can start by actually listening to the concerns and experiences of our friends and neighbors.
We see this process reflected in other countries- in Britain through Brexit, and in European responses to the flood of refugees and migrants from Africa and the Middle East. As technology improves and global markets expand and climate change forces entire populations to migrate we’ll see it again. We’re entering an era of migration, one that will force us to reckon with our very notions of nations and citizens. We can respond with either frightened nationalism or considered growth. One offers a retreat into a troubled past. The other- our future.
Mikal is currently attending the University of Wisconsin-Madison, where she studies under the Department of Family Health and Community Medicine as a dual MPH/PA graduate student. She attended Wake Forest University as a Reynolds Scholar, where she graduated with a degree in Philosophy and minors in Biology and Chemistry. During her time at Wake Forest she lived in Sydney, Australia, where she interned with Australian Doctors International; she served as a Volunteer Research Assistant with the Nonstandard Maternal Work Schedules and Child Health in Impoverished Families Project; and she volunteered with the Winston-Salem Community Care Center and the Brian Center for Health and Retirement. Mikal attended the North Carolina School of Science and Mathematics for her high school studies, where she was a Jimmy V Scholar and received both the NCSSM Golden Cupola Award and the NCSSM Humanities Award. Mikal is, most importantly, my older sister.
BOOKS AND ARTICLES FOR READING:
1. The Making of Ferguson (available online here)
2. Assigning Value to Difference, Albert Memmi
3. Black Like Me, John Howard Griffin
4. Push, Sapphire
5. I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, Maya Angelou
6. The Bluest Eye, Toni Morrison
7. The Autobiography of Martin Luther King, Jr., Martin Luther King, Jr.
8. The Autobiography of Malcolm X, Malcolm X as told by Alex Haley
9. Long Walk to Freedom, Nelson Mandela
10. Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, Frederick Douglass
11. Up From Slavery, Booker T. Washington
12. The Narrative of Sojourner Truth, Sojourner Truth
13. The Journal of Charlotte L. Forten, Charlotte L. Forten
14. Reminiscences of My Life in Camp, Susie King Taylor
15. The Souls of Black Folk, W.E.B.DuBois
16. Pedagogy of the Oppressed, Paulo Freire
17. Dreams of My Father: A Story of Race and Inheritence, Barack Obama
18. Song of Solomon, Toni Morrison
19. Invisible Man, Ralph Ellison
20. Their Eyes Were Watching God, Zora Neale Hurston
21. The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, Rebecca Skloot
22. The Color of Water: A Black Man’s Tribute to His White Mother, James McBride
23. The Land, Mildred D. Taylor
24. The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, Mark Twain
25. Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry, Mildred D. Taylor
26. Let The Circle Be Unbroken, Mildred D. Taylor
27. The Road to Memphis, Mildred D. Taylor
28. A Lesson Before Dying, Ernest J. Gaines
29. Life Ain’t Been No Crystal Stair, Langston Hughes
30. Black Like Me, John Howard Griffin
31. Between the World and Me, Ta-Nehisi Coates
32. The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness, Michelle Alexander
33. The Dreamkeepers: Successful Teachers of African American Children, Gloria Ladson-Billings
34. Tar Baby, Toni Morrison
35. As I Lay Dying, William Faulkner