This is the thirteenth of a 19 part list of my favorite things about 2019. There are books and movies and artists and albums and places and experiences. Making the list has been a helpful way of looking back and taking stock of my year. I’m sure I’ve forgotten some important items. No doubt in 20 years I’ll look back at several things on the list and ask, “Huh?” But this is an attempt at this moment in time to remember…
Early in the year a new friend, a defense attorney, recommended the book Just Mercy by Bryan Stevenson, which tells the story of the development Stevenson’s Equal Justice Initiative (EJI) that focuses on unfair trails and sentencing practices against black men. (It’s film adaptation is currently in theaters.) Not long after reading the book I found myself on the jury for a case involving a black man and aggravated robbery. Later in the year I had the opportunity to visit EJI’s National Memorial for Peace and Justice (also known as the National Lynching Memorial,) the Legacy Museum, which focuses on the history of slavery and mass incarceration of people of color in our country, both in Montgomery, Alabama, and to walk the Edmund Pettus bridge in Selma.
These experiences, along with others during the year, inspired me to write 3 posts about race in America. I wrote the first one HERE. The second one was to be about visiting the Lynching Memorial, Just Mercy, and my walk on the Pettus bridge. I’ve written several drafts, but just can’t seem to get it right. I say too much or I don’t say enough. Both experiences are stories that need to be told, but too difficult to put into words. So rather than describe the experiences, let me tell you two things briefly that they have taught me.
- White people really want the subject and history of racism in our country to be something that can be easily switched off, like turning out the lights when you leave a room. But it refuses to be that simple because it was never that simple. It’s not about good white people who are not racist and bad white people who are racist. It is, instead, like barbed wire that has been sewn into the fabric of our history. It hurts all of us, and can’t be removed like we want it to, which is to say without pain and some tearing of the actual tapestry of our history.
- White people, especially southerners, will devote entire lives to the study of genealogy. We will take DNA tests and scour libraries for stories about our ancestors. At the root of this, whether acknowledged or not, is a deeply held belief that our stories are intimately connected to the stories of those who have gone before us, and that the things they did and that were done to them are still reverberating in our lives today. Yet when it comes to the forced enslavement of Africans, the post-emancipation Jim Crow laws, lynching, redlining, and mass incarceration that is STILL happening, we don’t want to apply the same standard of history. Which means that we keep repeating the same history.
Regardless of who and where you are, a drive down the civil rights trail in Alabama is a pilgrimage you must take, if you are able, in order to truly wrestle with the story of race in our country, and how we fit into it.