What is going on here?

That is what my mom used to say, hands on her hips, to my brothers and me when we were misbehaving in so loud and rambunctious a way, that our play no longer flew under the mom radar.

What is going on here?

Most of the time, scratch that, ALL of the time, she caught us scuffling with each other, being unkind in words and deeds. I was a yell-er and my brothers loved to wrestle, so we created quite a commotion when our tempers flared.

On this Martin Luther King Jr. day, 2022, I feel rather like my mother did in the days when I fought with my brothers. My hands are on my hips and I am exasperated.

In the aftermath of George Floyd’s death in the summer of 2020, it felt like we were able to wake up and pay attention to what was really happening in the lives of Black people. It felt like white people, in the very smallest way, were beginning to listen. Books by Black authors were so popular it was difficult for booksellers to keep them in stock and many of us were anxious to learn how to see things in a new light. It looked like we, as a nation, were moving in a more positive direction in our attitudes toward racism.

Apparently we weren’t.

States began to create laws making it more difficult for all people to vote. This made me uneasy. Doesn’t everyone in the United States have the right to cast a vote?

I tried not to pay attention to the noise that school boards made regarding their paranoia about Critical Race Theory. (Educators nationwide contend that the theory is not taught at the K-12 level, but conservatives have weaponized the term as a catchall symbolizing schools’ equity and diversity work. Washington Post) It sounded to me like groups of ignorant white people mouthing off. I thought they would say their piece and move on.

I started to pay attention when these same people demanded that their children not be taught the truth about the history of race relations in our country. I began to get worried when they started library audits and banned books, some of them by the same authors who were lauded in 2020.

This week I listened to Talking While Black, a podcast by This American Life. The host, Emanuele Berry, related stories of the backlash that is happening all across America. It was disturbing to listen to the white response to George Floyd’s death.

I have never been so embarrassed by my fellow mid-westerners as when I listened to a young, Black, high school student from Traverse City, Michigan relate how her classmates had participated in a mock slave trade over group chat. They not only made “bids” on specific students, but they shared thoughts such as, “all Blacks should die,” and “let’s start another holocaust.” (Washington Post July 21,2021, Hannah Natanson)

The adults in Traverse City were not particularly helpful in dealing with the fallout that this incident generated. They are recorded, for posterity, saying things like, “there is no racism in our town,” and “we in Traverse City have really come a long way…”

A long way from where?

When I caught up on the local news this morning I became angry reading about how the brand new governor of Virginia, Glenn Youngkin, had declared that he forbids, “the teaching of inherently divisive concepts, including Critical Race Theory.” Heaven forbid that the students of Virginia grapple with the complicated, slave owning past of the state they reside in. What is going on when white people deny the up and coming generation the right to study the unvarnished truth?

The preceding article was printed on the same day that our country honors Doctor Martin Luther King Junior, who gave his life in pursuit of racial justice. Surely the irony cannot be lost on even the most obtuse of us!

What happened to our listening ears and hearts, our compassion and our promises of ensuring simple human dignity for all of our sisters and brothers? Why has speaking of racial justice become so taboo? What are we afraid of?

Ensuring just treatment under our laws and providing legislation to ensure that everyone has a chance to VOTE is a fundamental right in this country. What does it say about us white people when we vote people like Youngkin into office, angrily protest the protection of voting rights, and actively ban books all while stating that we have, “come so far on the racism issue?”

I mean racism might be in other places but it isn’t in my town.

Not in my family.

Not in my heart.

What is going on here is foolishness on the part of white people. Life in the United States is not a zero sum game. You don’t loose anything if the Black man down the street gets to vote and his kids go to school unmolested.

This is a win/win situation. Imagine all the benefits to our society as a whole and the things we could accomplish if we were all on the same side, if we all wanted what is best for each other.

Are we really so insecure that we can’t make room in our lives for the concerns of our neighbors?

In 2022 let us shut out the voices of those who would lead us down the paths of division and hate. Let us listen, instead to those who always insist that we treat each other fairly and get along.

Let’s not be caught creating warring sides like young children do. It is possible to make choices to ensure that we all have a chance to dream. To “…dream that one day this nation will rise up (emphasis mine) and live out the true meaning of its creed: ‘We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal.’” (MLK Jr, August 1963, Washington, DC)

Time to rise up and live out!

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