Questions of Civic Proportions Newsletter
April 4, 2021
My Fellow Citizens,
In an instant, the right song has the power to transport across time and space to some past moment. On this day, there’s a song that transports me to a moment that we share.
At some point in the day, every April 4th, I think “A shot rang out in the Memphis sky.”
This is the shot that killed Martin Luther King, Jr. in 1968. A shot that marks the end of so much, a final chapter in the Civil Rights Movement.
The lyrics of U2’s song, “Pride,” have never been complicated. Bono cries, “One man comes in the name of love… One man comes he to justify.” In my mind, I have always heard the word “justify” as a combination of “justice” and “testify.” King gave justice a voice in our public sphere.
The lyrics ask, “What more in the name of love?”
The band’s re-telling of the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr. concludes:
“Free at last, they took your life
They could not take your pride
In the name of love”
I have always wondered how King and other leaders like him could persist in their work despite seeing the very ugliest version of who we are. How could they still believe?
There are so many stories of loss in our public life today. The witnesses in the trial of former Minneapolis Police Officer Derek Chauvin have told stories of feeling helpless. They are testifying to public trauma.
The previous administration’s Coronavirus Response Coordinator has said the majority of COVID deaths beyond the first 100,000 could have been prevented. (Deborah Birx to CNN)
Mass shootings in Boulder, Colorado, and Atlanta, Georgia, share headlines with unprecedented efforts to limit voting rights in Georgia, Texas, and Arizona. Ari Berman, journalist and voting rights activist, observed, “It’s easier to buy a gun in Georgia than it is to vote.” He also shared the data visualizations accompanying The Washington Post’s analysis, “Which is easier in your state? Buying a rifle or voting?“
How do we look up from a growing list of losses like this and answer with love instead of despair? With actions that promote hope instead of those that enact revenge?
Because we have seen people like King do this work, we can do it too. We can also admit that it sometimes feels devastatingly difficult.
To look forward, we have to look up from loss and find opportunity. Change that had not been possible before the shared loss, then becomes possible — maybe even necessary.
In her poem at the Presidential Inauguration Ceremony in 1993, Maya Angelou called us to find this kind of resilience:
Lift up your eyes upon
This day breaking for you.
Give birth again
To the dream.
Women, children, men,
Take it into the palms of your hands,
Mold it into the shape of your most
Private need. Sculpt it into
The image of your most public self.
Lift up your hearts
Each new hour holds new chances
For a new beginning.
Do not be wedded forever
To fear, yoked eternally
An excerpt from “On the Pulse of Morning”
Here is a powerful idea — seeing where our most private need and our most public self converge. In these tragic moments, we have a real sense that our own survival depends on our ability to act together and address a public problem.
In an interview last summer, Peniel Joseph, director of the Center for the Study of Race and Democracy at the University of Texas at Austin, addressed the question that so many of asked. NPR’s Jeremy Hobson wanted to know how the protests today compare to the unrest of 1968. In his response, Joseph described what he calls a “generational opportunity” and explained that:
“I think the biggest difference between then and now is that you’ve got movements like the Black Lives Matter movement that really have a very concrete policy agenda to try to not only just push through anti-racist policies, but to think about things like guaranteed income, health care for all, and really redistributing the resources we put into our criminal justice system into our communities.”
As difficult as the news is each day, think in terms of these new chances for change. Let’s not lose the opportunity to turn away from fear and brutishness. Despair always works to diminish our deeply held principles.
Let’s stand together and answer today’s call to act in the name of love.
Thinking of you this April 4th,
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Questions of Civic Proportions
“We have plenty of men and women who can teach what they know; we have very few who can teach their own capacity to learn.”
—Joseph K. Hart, Civil Rights Activist
What concerns are driving a new effort to ban trans-athletes from women’s sports?
Can today’s racism directed at Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders help us see the relationship between racism and disease?
For further reading, visit The Washington Post, where writer Andrew Wang shares that today’s attacks required him to revisit his family’s trauma of losing his great-uncle in 2007. He also worries that the community is promoting racism in its response to these racist attacks.
Elaine Godfrey shares another personal story at The Atlantic, “When Racism Comes for You.” That article explores what she calls, “the trope of the ‘perpetual foreigner.'”
Does choosing a new future also require confronting “whiteness?”
The New York Times described this book as an “urgent call to confront the legacy of structural racism bequeathed by white anger and resentment, and to show its continuing threat to the promise of American democracy.” Carol Anderson’s conclusion in her book, White Rage, is no less powerful today.
It’s another appeal to deny the power of brutishness, no matter how strong that power has been in our past:
“Full voting rights for American citizens, funding and additional resources for quality schools, and policing and court systems in which racial bias is not sanctioned by law—all these are well within our grasp. Visionaries, activists, judges, and politicians before us saw what America could be and fought hard for that kind of nation. This is the moment now when all of us—black, white, Latino, Native American, Asian American—must step out of the shadow of white rage, deny its power, understand its unseemly goals, and refuse to be seduced by its buzzwords, dog whistles, and sophistry. This is when we choose a different future.”
Good Work: “The Keepers” and AZA Comics
The trailer introducing “The Keepers” warns the audience, “Forget everything you know about superheroes.” An article in The Atlanta Black Star tells us that Truesdale’s imagination and determination combined to create “an entire literary universe of empowerment now exists where the superheroes are nonwhite women.” Vogue says the first illustrated novel, The Keepers: Origins, was “as much a space opera as it is a superhero story.”
Truesdale set out to solve a problem she found in how women appear in the superhero stories:
“With women… there is always a limit that’s placed on them. With guys, there’s this infinite existence that they can have all of the things they can do, they can be, they can achieve, they can want to have. And with women, there’s this limit, where you can be strong, but you can’t be too strong; you can be smart, but you can’t be too smart. There’s this metaphorical glass ceiling that’s there.”
She told Vogue that she set out to create the AZA Universe where she could explore, “what it would look like if there were literally no limitations placed on what a woman can do, what she can be.”
The superheroes in this universe are Black, Latina, Asian, and Indian. Their storylines include PhD’s and retractable stilettos. Kala leads a crew of villain-fighting superheroes who have fled danger across the universe, including Kala’s space-tyrant dad.
This league of warriors, The Keepers, have migrated to Earth but stuck around “to save humans from themselves.” That’s a fight with a place for each of us.
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