Cloudy with a chance of real change

By | June 11, 2020

I woke up strangely optimistic this morning. At times it seems like we are floating in a vast sea, no winds to return us home or to take us to another port. Just stuck, waiting either for rescue or for a change of weather.

This week almost felt like a change of weather.

Yes, our Führer-wannabe is still in the White House, but as an indication of his decreasing power and his increasing fear of his own subjects, he turned his executive complex into something resembling the Green Zone, surrounding himself with generals, lackeys, and his own Republican Guard. Orange Adolf even retreated to his bunker.

Here in Dartmouth, an overwhelmingly white town, a high school student organized a parade against racism and local businesses donated water to marchers. It was only last year that the Black Lives Matter movement was considered too extreme for much of White America. But now, here the locals were, marching and shouting “Black Lives Matter” and “No justice, no peace” as if they really meant it.

Now, if only they would get rid of the racist Dartmouth school mascot.

Sometimes White America hops on movements in the same spirit as attending a fiesta: many hashtags are consumed and a good time is had by all. Then everybody goes home — to process it with their support system or read about it in their book group, with an emphasis on personal growth (there’s got to be something in it for me).

Sometimes a hashtag movement gains longer traction and actually results in something. Let us hope that the fight against structural racism is more than a passing fancy and that the calls for police, criminal justice, and economic reform are daring, sweeping, and radical — in the sense of dealing with the root causes of all these problems. Otherwise, the usual half-hearted, half-baked reforms will be the usual lipstick on a pig.

I’ve been seeing White Americans buying up anti-racism books, scheduling Zoom coffee klatches, and having deep and abstract conversations with one another. There seems to be much discussion about reforming police training — but also a lot of push-back against progressive efforts to reduce funding for police departments; wrest control from police unions of disciplinary, hiring and policy matters; and using taxpayer money for social services for distressed, police-occupied communities — while “defunding” the police at local, state, and federal levels. The disappointing Democratic nominee is making all these disappointing noises.

Kaffee klatches for discussing racism may be no substitute for working for meaningful reform, but as one person noted: “To be charitable, they need to work out their feelings and that is important in its own way.” Ouch.

Yet, as anemic as White America’s response has been to-date, it is unprecedented and cause for cautious optimism. But if White sympathy is to result in anything meaningful, dear fellow white folks, we must do a lot better. We have to dedicate ourselves to eradicating the structural racism that has been the foundation of this country for going on 420 years now. And that is going to come with costs that, until now, only people of color have had to pay.