I sat down to write a blog post about a quote I believed to be attributable to James Baldwin. I deployed my librarian-ing skills and soon discovered that the quote was a rather far-reaching misattribution and that it had, instead, first been used by a man named James Robert Jones, Jr., who uses the Twitter handle @sonofbaldwin. So, while recognizing that the inspiration for this post was not from its presumed source, I’m still soldiering forward because I think this is still an idea worth exploring at this time, in this place. Here’s the epigraph for the blog post:
“We can disagree and still love each other unless your disagreement is rooted in my oppression and denial of my humanity and right to exist.” —@sonofbaldwin
So, murder hornets notwithstanding, we had an election in these here parts a couple of weeks ago. While the outcome of the election is still being debated in some circles, the general consensus of the process that has determined all presidential elections up to this one is that we will have a new president on January 20, 2021. In the wake of what has been an incredibly contentious election cycle, there have been calls for us to heal the breach that crops up every four years in the country spurred by divisive rhetoric and carry on as before. This has happened every four years since I’ve been of voting age, and it will probably happen every four years until I die. We’ve become so used to this call to come together that we may have reached a point where we don’t recognize that asking this of some of our nation’s citizens is tantamount to asking them to “agree to disagree” with individuals who question their humanity and right to exist in our society. This is an unreasonable thing to ask anyone to do.
Elections have consequences… without reference to the outcome of this one, a consequence of the process we just went through as a country is that there are those whose very inclusion in the system has been called into question repeatedly throughout the process as well as its aftermath. What seems like the next important question to ask is: who should lead the work to heal the breach? Asking for participation to heal the breach from those whose rights as citizens and humans both have been called into question repeatedly is wrong. Should not the job of healing the breach fall on a smaller number of shoulders than the universe of all US citizens? There are times when people who have a lot less skin in the game must do the work while letting those who most need the healing take a pass. The roles are clear in reparation work.
So, what do we as humans do? …and how does coming together work, actually? It does feel like right now we are in some sort of ridiculous détente where each side waits for the other to “go first” in some ritualistic return to the playground rules of our youth.
So I’m taking time to ponder what I can do to help. How can I personally heal this breach… because every time we call for breach healing, one thing is sure—everyone wants to be able to call “not it” like we did when we played schoolyard games as children. Like so much of our democratic process, that does not seem like a great way to determine whose job it is… and so I’m asking each of us to look inward to think about what we, as individuals, can do to help heal this huge divide. If we truly want to believe that there are “good people on both sides,” we actually need to be good people… and I would contend that being a good person is very much taking opportunities to have hard discussions with those on the “other” side (with the aforementioned caveat that there are some folks who do fall into a category that unequivocally gets to call “not it” on this one). If you are one such, this call to action is not for you, but for your allies. Since you may have visible characteristics that make it more likely that you be asked to have a conversation about these topics… I can’t give advice here since I don’t have the lived experience to do so. For everyone else, remember “ally” is a verb… and keep an eye out for opportunities to use it, always being sure to take cues from those you are trying to support.
Libraries are a great place to have these types of conversations, and we are eager to host them. Back in the spring when we started thinking a lot more about systemic racism as an organization, we began looking for opportunities to create ways to do this. When we decided to do a community read program we prioritized finding an author who was accessible to all ages and would give us opportunities to encourage conversations around these topics. Learn about our inaugural Rogue Reads program, featuring books by Jacqueline Woodson. The themes of her work will give us a chance to host conversations about race, family dynamics, identity, generational trauma, and religion. As a part of this multi-month program, there will be many opportunities to come together as a community to learn, connect, and grow. We hope you will join us.
OK, here’s a real James Baldwin quote to bring this around full circle: he wrote in Notes of a Native Son, “I imagine one of the reasons people cling to their hates so stubbornly is because they sense, once hate is gone, they will be forced to deal with pain.”
I think that’s a reasonable place to end this post.