The One about Sharing Perspectives

EastEd_conf_2017From comments given to participants at the EastEd Middle School Diversity Conference hosted at Sandy Spring Friends School on Jan. 30:

When times feel topsy turvey, diverse communities are able to have conversations where we share ideas, feelings, experiences and perspectives with respect and openness. In that spirit and in hopes of hearing and learning from others, I share my perspective.

Have white people fully understood what people of color experience in the United States? It is hard to generalize but I do think it can be said that we haven’t been acting as if we do. This is never more true than during the times when white people believe that “things are improving.”

Perhaps it is human nature to have greater patience toward problems that afflict others as long as there is a feeling that tomorrow will be better than today.

I can offer a personal reflection on this point. My mother suffers from macular degeneration; she is now blind. Advances are being made in the early identification of this condition, in its treatment and the prognosis for stabilization and retaining sight for younger generations. So, for me, I do not perceive the disease as a huge threat because I am confident that when I am the age when affliction is likely medical advances will see to it that I will be ok. I believe things are getting better so I discount the possibility that damage will be done to me. None of this applies to my Mother. Obviously, her relationship to the disease, in every way, is different than mine.

With Obama’s election in 2008, the appointment of Eric Holder, the slow but steady improvement in the economy, the winding down of two wars, the growing acceptance of marriage equality, an administration determined to exert leadership to address a warming planet, and more Americans than ever with health insurance, it seemed undeniable that over the past eight years things were getting better, allowing progressive white people to enjoy their privilege without the necessity of acknowledging it.

We tolerated police brutality, the school to prison pipeline, absurd drug laws, for-profit prisons incentivized to encourage recidivism, poisoned water, voting restrictions and other insults that have had devastating effects on historically marginalized communities. But the other side of the ledger was positive and, since most of us were not directly affected, we were mostly silent, appropriately sympathetic, occasionally aghast but confident that we were headed in the right direction.

That ended last November and with every tweet, thank you rally, cabinet appointment, refusal to address conflicts of interest, unabashed promulgation of untruths and weird conspiracies, the latest executive order, illusion of continuing progress toward a more fair and equitable society has gone up in smoke.

Maybe this is what we needed. In any event, it’s what we got.

Within living memory, terrorist bombs were exploding in churches, lynching was accepted as a form of justice, heads of brave pacifists were broken as they walked across Alabama bridges, buses and crosses burned. Our sympathies aroused, we all felt the humiliation of catsup running down our faces as we watched college students sitting at lunch counters, dressed as if going to church, wiping their faces and not backing down.

This is what wake-up calls sounded like, back in the day, when people of color’s demands for equality were met with state sanctioned violence.

If you are not hearing today’s wakeup call you aren’t paying attention. Do we dare hit the snooze button?

What must we do to end racism, to manifest compassion, to bend the arc of history toward justice? Let us no longer assume that we know where the bottom is. For now, we should be impatient, nervous, on guard, quick to protest and even quicker to organize. We must do our best to listen, to speak truth to power, to proceed as Way Opens.

And that is why we come together as a school and as a community to put into practice the most important elements of the Sandy Spring Friends School curriculum. QRA: Question, Reflection, Action.

3 comments to The One about Sharing Perspectives

  • Howard Zuses

    Thanks Tom. I’m once again reminded of a quote from George Fox and the special opportunity for SSFS to be an example as we Let Our Lives Speak.
    Be patterns, be examples in all countries, places, islands, nations wherever you come; that your carriage and life may preach among all sorts of people, and to them; then you will come to walk cheerfully over the world, answering that of God in everyone; whereby in them you may be a blessing, and make the witness of God in them to bless you.
    Statement of 1656, from The Works of George Fox (1831)

  • Sandra Dayton

    Thank you.

  • Leslie Shah

    I am deeply appreciative of your leadership Tom. I stand with you in support of understanding privilege, our histories, and respecting culture and identities. I believe we are called upon to actively seek and find our voice in the confusing milleu of impact and intent. SSFS cultivates deep kindness among its students not by passing out cupcakes and cool aid. We cultivate kindness through asking, challenging ourselves, by leading, by example, by seeking and pausing, and reaching to take hold if only for a moment each other’s hands. The way opens with every gesture of kindness. Your heart has opened mine and I thank you,Tom, and I thank you, the community we co-create at SSFS.

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