Seeing clearly | Moment's Notice

By Maria Montalvo | Mar 05, 2018

In 1962, James Baldwin wrote “The Fire Next Time” as a letter to his teenage nephew, marking the 100th anniversary of the emancipation of African-Americans and the distance yet to be traveled.

When talking about how to communicate, he said, “We, with love, shall force our brothers to see themselves as they are, to cease fleeing from reality and begin to change it … great men have done great things here, and will again, and we can make America what America must become.”

Baldwin was asking Americans of all races to attack the legacy of racism in all forms. Racism persists despite the progress made during the Civil Rights era. Edmonds has been struggling to reconcile events in our community in the last several months – events that bring out strong reactions and conflicting interpretations.

The facts have been established by the police or photographic/video evidence, and most of us do not and will not know all of the details. The recent racial incidents occurred outside a local business, at a neighborhood construction site, on a town street and at a local school.

These incidents do not mean that the one or the few who may have been involved represent any arbitrary whole, neither a group of people nor a city. These incidents, and others across the country, do mean, however, that there is still work to be done.

By work, I mean working to end the social and economic costs of racism, restoring economic mobility within our country and reducing both hidden and blatant discrimination.

Watching or reading the news about the treatment of others can be a constant reminder of our human potential to be inhumane. Many others are far away, forgotten, invisible, easier not to think about. Each of us is a member of a group we identify with, whether it be from a place or because of a family member or through a sense of belonging, and it is only natural to view those inside and outside of our group differently.

The rub comes when our perceptions of differences obscure reality, overlook injustice or minimize kindness or respect.

Just three years ago, Ta-Nehisi Coates wrote “Between the World and Me,” a letter to his 14-year-old son about the America he still faces. In books and other writings, Coates focuses on the continued trials and compromises that African-Americans are subject to every day, from the violent to the economic to the muted disregard.

He also highlights their patience and forgiveness. The strength behind this strength and nonviolent action comes from many places, but its impact resonates across cultures, from Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. to Cesar Chavez to high school kids in Florida.

Although there will likely always be ever-changing lines or barriers or segments in our society, the “we and the them” is inherently weaker than the “us.”

Baldwin attempted to provide advice in the face of punishing conditions: “Through the storm which rages  … you must accept them and accept them with love” because we have “no other hope.”

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