I have been reflecting on a few things lately.
I watched the documentary “I am not your negro” featuring the work of James Baldwin recently. I highly recommend it as a timely, critical perspective on America. It covers issues of race and civil rights clearly, but on an even deeper level it is an exercise in self and societal reflection. It is a confrontaton of the way we defend our utopias at the expense of the others who we scapegoat to make our evil seem naive. Again, I highly recommend it.
What white people have to do, is try and find out in their own hearts why it was necessary to have a nigger in the first place. Because I’m not a nigger. I’m a man, but if you think I’m a nigger, it means you need it. . . . If I’m not a nigger here and you invented him — you, the white people, invented him — then you’ve got to find out why. And the future of the country depends on that. Whether or not it’s able to ask that question. – James Baldwin
Learning is never easy and is a prerequisite for continuing to watch over our humanness, for our humanness is something we tend to every day. No matter how old we are we will keep learning. A new season of our lives will require us to step into the murky waters of the unknown and start learning our way once more. It is a beautiful thing to be able to say that you have changed but change is hard and scary. To accept a change in perspective is to reconcile your present and your past with this new direction your life is inviting you to. For perfectionists or recovering ones (like me) it can be so hard to love your whole self – including the parts you have outgrown and to be patient with yourself as you gradually form into a new person.
I try to reconcile my belief in something hopeful about being human and the evil that we can do. How do humans collectively build a system of seizing land from indigenes by force? How do we spend entire centuries selling one another and lynching one another? What happens to the conscience? Could the conscience of a whole group of people be dead to the humanity of the other?
It concerns me that by virtue of being human, it is possible that I could be that person. I could be the lyncher. It is very possible. This is what makes me suspect the idea of safety. It is hard, dare I say impossible to find a safety that is not built on the backs of others. The “dream” is always bloody, built on the foundation of slavery, of depriving natives of their land. Any “heaven” at its most vulgar must determine who is damned. Sometimes “innocence” is actually rather diabolical.
“All paradises, all utopias are designed by who is not there, by the people who are not allowed in.” – Toni Morrison
Sometimes it is clear to me that we as a collective are an organism and that what we do to the other is what we do to ourselves. This makes ancient words like “Love your neighbour as yourself” living, because it is a profound ecological truth – what you do to the other is what you do to yourself.
To be human is an exercise in care – careful stewardship of our selves, of our community, of our environment. It is something we nurture daily. It is something we must necessarily fail terribly at but must keep trying to be. It is something that must necessarily confuse us. It is also necessarily stunningly beautiful.