Dreams, identities, and democracy

Dear President Trump,

After I wrote to you about Ruby Sales last night, I watched her TED talk from September, 2018. She opened with the story of the attack on her and her friends back in 1965 that resulted in the deaths of Jonathan Daniels and another man. She explained that the sheriff had jailed them, ostensibly for their protection from the mob. However, the jailors terrorized them the entire 6 days they were held and then without warning, they were set free. No one took them to safety or even met them outside the jailhouse and they had to fend for themselves. It was hot and a few of them volunteered to go to the corner store to get sodas for everyone and this was where Ruby and Jonathan were confronted by Tom Coleman, who was brandishing a shotgun. You know the rest of the immediate story, but it’s important to tell you that Coleman was arrested, tried, and acquitted. Ms. Sales tells the audience that that day she saw the very worst and the very best of white men.

I will come back to Ms. Sales and her talk in a minute, but now I want to tell you about Mellody Hobson because I watched her May 2014 TED talk right after Ms. Sales’s and the juxtaposition was unsettling. You may actually know who Ms. Hobson is since she’s a CEO (of Ariel Investments) and she’s married to George Lucas. Really, though, I’ll be surprised if you do know of her since she’s African American and you seem to studiously avoid knowing people who’re African American.

Anyway, the title of Ms. Hobson’s talk is “Colorblind or Color Brave?” and in it she lays out a solid argument for getting comfortable with being uncomfortable talking about race. She tells us that for the greater good we essentially need to go for it, we need to name what is happening, where the disconnects and inequalities are and stop pretending we don’t see the color of people’s skin or that we are one big happy family and should just move on. She argues that we need to talk and talk and talk about all this and not shy away from it because she wants all children to know that anything is possible for them, that they can dream big.

At the very end of her talk she reminds us we live in the home of the free and the brave and she asks us to live into this, to show courage, to be bold and not to be colorblind but to be color brave. It’s a very upbeat, hopeful talk even though she is calling out the ongoing reality of racism and how we collectively tend to treat race like it’s radioactive.

Ms. Hobson was, of course, giving her talk smack in the middle of President Obama’s second term and although she was clear at the outset that the election of a Black person for president doesn’t mean we can check conquering racism off the to-do list (well, something like that), 2014 was a time when there was a lot of hope that we were moving in that direction. Ms. Sales, on the other hand, gave her TED talk 21 months into your first term, a time when it was clear that we really hadn’t made the progress we’d thought we had and in fact, were losing ground. She and Ms. Hobson are obviously different people with different histories and different life circumstances so their takes will be different, but I do think the historical context of their respective talks helped shape those talks significantly.

Ms. Sales closed by asking the audience, to include those of us joining her in the future, whether we want to become whole, if we want to live into all of our identities? She asked us if we want to join the long line of people who believed in the promise of America and kept the faith as they worked to build democracy. She told us that despite everything, she still believes in America and then she solemnly asked if we are willing to become major participants in humanizing the future for ourselves, and for our democracy.

May we be safe to live fully into all our identities.
May we be willing to support all children’s dreams.
May we see that a healthy democracy is a necessary precondition for the above.
May we see that peace is too.

Tracy Simpson

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