This is probably one of the most important blogs I will write as president of NCCCSPA. It is also one of the hardest.
In just a few months, COVID-19 forever altered our way of life and left us reeling in uncertainty. Just as we were starting to return to our “new normal,” the killing of a black man at the hands of the Minneapolis Police Department thrust institutionalized racism into our focus in ways that has not happened in our lifetimes. As I process all of this, I am going to let the voice of a colleague speak, as he has found words. His summation below touched me, and I hope it is meaningful to you too.
“As a historian, I am constantly looking to the past for context. I guess it’s an occupational hazard. As I reflect on the events of the past week or so, and even longer, I have to consider how change has been painstakingly slow to happen. In seeing the video and image of the police officer’s knee on the neck of George Floyd, I could not help but think of the words of Chief Justice Roger B. Taney in the Dred Scott decision that African Americans were “so far inferior that they had no rights which the white man was bound to respect.” How were Mr. Floyd’s rights respected? We can make the excuse that the Dred Scott decision was over 150 years ago, but what has changed?
As for the protests since Mr. Floyd’s murder, we need to look no farther back in the past that Martin Luther King Jr’s “Letter from a Birmingham Jail.” The letter was prompted by the statement of eight well-meaning clergymen in Alabama, where the ministers, priests, and rabbi urged King to stop his protests in Birmingham, Alabama in the spring of 1963. They urged him to be patient and find a better time to protest. King said (and I’m doing him an injustice by paraphrasing--read the two letters, starting with the Alabama clergymen) that there is never a “good” time for action. One can always find an excuse as to why “now” is not a good time. Further, he wrote, “This ‘Wait’ has almost always meant ‘Never.’” Basically, if those seeking change are forced to “wait” for a more opportune time, they can be delayed indefinitely. Change never comes. Should people be asked to continue to wait? Is there a “better” time to seek change? If so, when, specifically, is that time? Sure, we can say that was nearly 60 years ago, but what has changed?
A few months ago, Ahmaud Arbery was murdered by two vigilantes, reminiscent of lynch mobs in what we thought was a bygone era. The haunting song “Strange Fruit” by Billie Holiday seems very apropos at this time. Perhaps the only thing about that song that could be changed is that this is not just a southern problem. This is a national problem. It is not a new problem. Racial injustice has been a fact of life in the United States since long before the official founding. Some things may be better now, but things are far from where they need to be.”
Thank you Wes Bishop for allowing me to repost this.
There is never a “good” time for change, but it appears that, perhaps, people are listening now. As we reach out to our students we need to remember that change can be painful and slow, but it must be made for the greater good. We are the change agents and we must do our part. Now is the time.
Even if you did not read this post, listen to the song “Strange Fruit.” It will leave you shaken. It took me two tries to get through it, as it was so powerful.
Happy Gingras, NCCCSPA President