Racism, along with all the other oppressive biases we hold about one another and ourselves, isn’t like a vegetable stew where you can just pick out the offending bits of celery or rutabagas and call it good – problem solved. It’s more like fruitcake where we can extract the weird green bits of pseudo-fruit, which helps some, but the essence is still baked into the cake itself and we can’t simply extract the eggs or the flour, or any of the other ingredients that are integral to the structure of the cake. Going with the fruitcake analogy, doing things like banning Confederate (do we have to capitalize this word? – let’s just not from now on) flags, and even changing the names of military bases named for confederate generals and removing confederate statues from Capitol Hill, are all important, but they only get rid of the green bits that are easy to pick out – the surrounding batter still has to be reckoned with.
I think we need to be careful that white America doesn’t latch onto a vastly oversimplified understanding of what it means to grapple with racism such that we decide we’ve removed enough of the really offensive bits and can settle back into our “normal” complacency. We need to rethink the whole recipe – all of the ingredients, their amounts, how they are combined, how long it’s baked at what temperatures, and what it is we actually want to “eat.” We need to rethink the choice of recipes, but here too, we need to be careful that we don’t jump from one toxic mix to another because we haven’t done the work we need to do to understand how we ended up with this shitty recipe that we keep handing down from one generation to the next and the next and the next like we have for 400+ years.
Just like holiday fruitcakes, racism (along with all the other biases that prop up the profit-oriented culture and society most of us have accepted as a given) will linger long after most people have decided we need to move on and come up with new systems, systems that are antiracist, antisexist, antiageist and so forth. We can’t just toss it into the yard waste behind grandma’s back (or in my family, grandpa’s back) and move on.
Fortunately, after I started this letter earlier this morning, I came across Danielle Allen’s WP editorial entitled “We Seek Reforms to Policing. But Something Even Deeper Needs Repair” in which she describes the bipartisan commission she co-chaired through the American Academy of Arts and Sciences “on the practice of democratic citizenship. They generated 31 recommendations and you can see their report – “Our Common Purpose: Reinventing American Democracy for the 21st Century” – here: (https://www.amacad.org/ourcommonpurpose/report). I’ve only scrolled through to look at the highlights, but it looks like they did a wonderful job of re-visioning how we can make the deep, systemic changes needed for us to have a sustainable future where everyone is valued and peoples’ wellbeing is prioritized over profit. Their recommendations revolve around six strategies:
Strategy 1: Achieve Equality of Voice and Representation
Strategy 2: Empower Voters
Strategy 3: Ensure the Responsiveness of Political Institutions
Strategy 4: Dramatically Expand Civic Bridging Capacity
Strategy 5: Build Civic Information Architecture that Supports Common Purpose
Strategy 6: Inspire a Culture of Commitment to American Constitutional Democracy and One Another
Basically, this commission spent the last two years thinking about how we can go well beyond picking out bits and pieces from the fruitcake and instead get down to the business of thoughtfully, intentionally re-inventing ourselves with new recipes. I don’t know about you, but I love trying out new recipes that use yummy, healthy ingredients, fine-tuning them, and ultimately sharing them with folks so I’m excited.
May we be safe from old structures that have really been limiting strictures.
May we be willing to re-vision how we are together.
May we tap our creativity, our strengths, and our love for one another.
May we accept the challenges ahead with grace and resolve.