To the editor,
In my lifetime, I’ve been surprised repeatedly by the uneven flow of history, of life itself. Just when things seem to be stalled in unending stasis – a leap! While many of us wring our hands and wonder how long, how long, beneath the surface, hidden forces coalesce into uncontainable immediacy. The Berlin Wall tumbles, the Iron Curtain collapses, Nelson Mandela emerges after 27 years in a South African prison and becomes president of a nation long devastated by apartheid.
Now, in America, at long last, in spite of a grueling pandemic, we stand, teetering, on the cusp of just such a moment of our own.
Admittedly, these moments of social fracture aren’t pretty. And while the initial Vesuvius of events is electrifying, especially when it unfolds on our television screens in real time, lasting change requires sustained engagement. A single exceptional verdict and sentencing in favor of the historically oppressed does not a new social order make. Do we want freedom and justice as living realities for all of our citizens, or is it enough to enshrine the words in wooden documents?
If we truly intend to breathe life into these platitudes, education is key. And the key to education, I believe, is reading. And I don’t mean social media posts.
I’m not a scholar of history – far from it – but I am a critical reader and recognize the signs of authentic scholarship when I see it. We often hear, you can’t re-write history, but if history hasn’t been fully and factually written in the first place, it’s imperative to take a closer look.
To get at a more expansive understanding of our history, it’s time to ask some uncomfortable questions, particularly about oppression and racism, even in a small, largely white, Midwestern community like ours.
In recent years we’ve been blessed by the publication of many fine books that document long-hidden accounts of events that clarify and rectify the old versions of our history. In a true democracy, everyone gets to have their say, and there’s no reason to fear or reject these new voices without giving them a chance to be heard. Read with an open mind; I think you’ll be glad you did.
The New Jim Crow by Michelle Alexander
White Fragility by Robin DiAngelo
How to be an Anti-Racist by Abram X. Kendi
The Color of Law by Richard Rothstein
Caste by Isabel Wilkerson
Lindsay Lee Johnson