Reflections on Stowe’s “Strange, what brings these past things so vividly back to us, sometimes!”

Over the next month, teachers will be taking part in a social justice roundtable discussion in the CTQ Collaboratory and on Twitter with #CTQCollab.

It’s been a few weeks since the scarred over wounds of past police actions were ripped open again by public killings of people of color. It was horribly all too familiar; death of young people of color, happening over minor or no infractions, answered by a floodgate of silence on social media, followed by a floodgate of sympathy for police lives. I knew it was going to be one of those moments where there was going to be a line drawn in the sand, and I was going to be on the opposite side of many of my friends. I lost half of my Facebook friends during the Michael Brown murder and the Darren Wilson no-indictment, and truthfully, I don’t miss one of them.  You can read how the whole thing unfolded for me here (The Crusade, 1/28/2015.)

In thinking about police brutality, it’s important to state that I embrace a nonviolent lifestyle, have never had an altercation with the police, and have friends and family on the force. I must also state that my anger these days is anything but passive. I’m disgusted and pissed off, have often felt like lashing out, and I have written more over these last few weeks, mostly to try to clear my head and organize my emotions. I have had to force myself to conjure every word.

I’m appalled that support of black lives somehow labels me as against the po po. To that I say, one is an occupation, the other is completely uncontrollable as to how one is born. I’m upset that there is a lack of empathy for dead people of color, a lack of sensitivity, and I am reminded of a passage in Uncle Tom’s Cabin, when Harriet Beecher Stowe so succinctly addresses her audience with, “Perhaps you laugh too, dear reader; but you know humanity comes out in a variety of strange forms now-a-days, and there is no end to the odd things that humane people will say and do.” It’s like that when POC die at the hands of the police. Strange support pops up from unexpected places, just as cloaked biases are publicly unveiled. Donald Trump has made it okay to lift up the hood and show your white supremacy. The whole thing is shocking, because first, you have to swallow the pill that it happened AGAIN, then you strain to hear the peeps of the silent majority, then you witness a sea of blue, complete with Go-fund-mes popping up for folks I see as murderers, then retaliation feeds the fire and ignorance does its dance again. I told you so… thugs… animals… they deserved it….

I’ve been troubled to the point of seeking silence within my own outlets. And the guilt that comes has been thick, like smoke that chokes us into focusing on just breathing. I have started a million posts, essays, jotted down lines I know need to land on the page, but it’s just festering in my heart, like a leech, sucking on the blood that is my social justice work. I swear Stowe is speaking to me through dreams or something; her words enter my mind like the cracking sound of thawing ice on a lake, after a long brutal winter. I hear her say, “…the heart has no tears to give,–it drops only blood, bleeding itself away in silence.” I decide, this Aztec, with the blood of a warrior people, refuses to be quiet. Thawing heart slowly drips, and I begin my lists of things we, as social justice warriors, can do RIGHT NOW, to counteract the craziness of our times:

We can: speak out against racism when we hear it and see it. I have a rule in my classroom that says “no one is allowed to talk smack about themselves or others.” I uphold it concerning talk of racism, sexism, micro-messaging and the like.

We can: never give up on a person. Just like I believe every student can learn and grow, I believe any person can as well. I have deliberately kept those with opposing viewpoints in my network circles. I have found surrounding ourselves with only like-minded people clouds the big picture.

We can: promote positive, everyday wonderful things that people of color are doing. The media has painted people of color as criminals and thugs. As social justice warriors, we can show the world the stories of wonderfulness that far outweigh how people of color are portrayed in movies, television, news networks and the like.

We can: support the amazing work that people of color are doing on a daily basis. There is a real need to break down the ideas that all people of color are gang members, or do drugs, or deal drugs,or are on welfare, etc. We are small business owners and CEOs and lawyers and doctors and teachers and professors and authors and artists…

We can: actively seek out new friendships and relationships that are different from our norm. Some of my best experiences are with people who, at first glance, I might not have given a second chance to know- it is really true that we cannot judge a book by its cover. I enjoy bantering with people who have very different mindsets from me ,specifically because it allows us both the opportunity to grow.

We can: have the courage to push back when somebody is spouting ignorance. It can be perfectly respectful to let someone know that we push back on what they said and ask for further clarification. A great deal of racism,bias and prejudice has to do with misinformation. Holding people accountable for their words and utilizing these times as teachable moments is something that we, as people of color, can do.

We can: do the research. When propaganda, lies, and dogma surface, we can take the lead by debunking the fallacies, finding the facts, offering a different perspective, and giving the masses a POC view on the matter. There is always more than meets the eye.

We can: be angry and upset about the injustices of the world without having to be labeled “reverse racists.” I promise you there is not one person of color who thinks that racism is going to somehow obliterate racism. Fighting fire with fire is a moot point. I can be angry, and a great deal of growth can come from that anger. A complacent nation is an enslaved nation. My freedom holds the same value as any other person’s freedom in this country. I just know that I have to fight for it harder.

What else can you do? You can be part of a growing movement to become a true social justice warrior. You will be introduced to several of my friends and colleagues who are committed to speaking up and speaking out.  Over the next month, you will be introduced to a group of amazing teacher leaders throughout the country who are in the process of working through these challenging times concerning social justice. I urge you to read every word, comment away, even if you agree to disagree, but our true purpose is to keep the conversations lit… let the fire begin!

Excerpts from Uncle Tom’s Cabin, by Harriet Beecher Stowe, 1852