A couple weeks back Senator Cory Booker appeared on The Late Show With Stephen Colbert to talk about George Floyd and the protests and the reaction. It’s an incredible interview and I encourage you to watch it.
The whole interview is about half an hour, but there’s about a 15-minute chunk that gets away from the current politics and focuses on racism and this moment in America that is just powerful stuff.
Booker and Colbert have been discussing the protests in Washington D.C. and how President Donald Trump cleared out Lafayette Park for a photo opp, and Colbert asks what it’s like in D.C. right now and if this is a harbinger of things to come. Booker launches into a very personal and emotional response that is worth your time:
This morning our family went down to Minneapolis where George Floyd was killed. There’s basically a shrine at the corner of Chicago and 38th that’s blossoming with art and signs and flowers. It felt like visiting the Lynching Memorial, somber and quiet.
We also drove down Lake Street and saw the devastation from the looters.
It’s been a bit wild to see the near-universal condemnation of Floyd’s death and seeing protests erupt in hundreds of cities and all 50 states. It’s like we might actually reach a moment where change happens.
Our family also marched in a protest on Sunday. I carried a sign that said, “No more white silence,” because I’m so tired of white people (myself included) not being outraged about ongoing racial oppression.
But as we’re a week or two removed from Floyd’s death and the violent riots, I’m wondering if I should have encouraged white people to be silent in a different way. I’m starting to see more and more white people speaking up on social media. Some are encouraging, and some less so.
It’s very obvious right now by what people say and what they don’t say where they stand. There are a lot of people who passionately proclaim, “Don’t tread on me,” who have been silent about literal tyranny in our streets. There are people who bemoan the violence and looting, but say nothing about police killing an unarmed black man in the street. And there are lots of white people with plenty to say who have done very little listening to the black community—or at best have cherrypicked a few conservative black sources who reinforce their racist ideas.
We see you.
Look, I don’t have a lot of answers here.
But I am seeing a lot of deeply white conversations about racism, and that’s a good sign that you’re missing something.
Listen to black voices experiencing oppression.
Don’t dismiss them when you find something uncomfortable or an idea you disagree with. Don’t throw out your ‘what abouts.’ Don’t throw up your own offenses—you being offended about the tone of the conversation or an accusation or a metaphor you don’t like pale in comparison to the real injustices the black community face on a regular basis.
This is hard work we have to do right now. I’m amazed at some of the progress we’ve already made—arrests, charges, national protest, etc.—but we have a long, long way to go.
As Ibram X. Kendi says in his book How to Be an Anti-Racist (a hard, challenging read), “There is no neutrality in the racism struggle.”
Or if Kendi is too “radical” for you, how about a fluffier source for the same idea:
“If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor. If an elephant has its foot on the tail of a mouse, and you say that you are neutral, the mouse will not appreciate your neutrality.” –Bishop Desmond Tutu
What a crap week. It’s bad enough dealing with a pandemic and all the stress and worry that entails. Then police violence and the murder of George Floyd. Then tear gas and more violence and more death and Minneapolis burning. I don’t have the words.
(Speaking of words, people like to quote Martin Luther King Jr. about non-violence, but he also spoke about riots. Some context on those comments is especially helpful.)
Since I don’t have words, two songs come to mind this week.
Let the People Be Free
The first is a protest song by Jayanthi Kyle called “Hand in Hand.” It was written in 2014 and, because of course, the lyrics are still quite relevant:
The day’s gonna come when I won’t march no more But while my sister ain’t equal & my brother can’t breathe Hand and hand with my family, we will fill these streets …
Mr. Policeman I can’t breathe Lay down your weapons and your badges and listen to me
Jayanthi is also in a chorus group called Give Get Sistet that’s pretty amazing. Nobody is doing performances right now, cuz pandemic, but they’d be an ideal group to bring in right now.
The other song I thought of was Ben Kyle’s “Minneapolis.” The lyrics aren’t nearly as applicable, but the mournful “Oh, Minneapolis” captures about how it felt this morning to see images of the city smoldering.
O Minneapolis, I saw you and Saint Paul kiss Neath the moonlight in a Mississippi mist Never saw a thing as beautiful as this Oh Minneapolis
Rain down, purple rain (I wanna hear the sound) I wanna feel the royal rain on me I wanna feel the holy water running like a holy stream I wanna be baptized in the city in the Mississippi
In the midst of a pandemic, I launched a Kickstarter for a new project. I’m pleasantly surprised to see people responding. We hit the initial goal last week, so the project is happening. Now we’re working on stretch goals to make it even better.
Launching a project like this is always a scary undertaking. You never know if this is a good idea that people will support or if you’re about to crash and burn.
It’s also scary because I’m talking about politics. That can be such a hot-button topic these days. Even when you think it can and should be simpler (in the midst of a global pandemic) it just gets more ridiculous.
But I’m hopeful. The whole point of the project is to find some common ground, to show that we can disagree and still get along.
Politics can be pretty divisive and depressing. What happened to hope? Too often, politics feels like a battleground where we lob accusations back and forth. And that’s not likely to change after November’s presidential election, no matter who wins or loses.
Politics have long been divisive and people will always disagree. But I have hope that we can do better.
So I’m launching a new project. It will be a book of political profiles, titled Better Politics,Please, that will tell encouraging stories of finding common ground.
Yeah, that’s a tall order these days.
But if we want to make civic engagement civil, it starts with we the people. I hope you’ll join me in creating better politics, please.
About three weeks ago I wrote a coronavirus checkin post, trying to capture where things were at “mid-stream, as I called it. Of course that was March 16, and hardly seems “mid-stream” now. That was just the beginning.
This is a weird time. Coronavirus has spread across the world and infections are exploding in the U.S., prompting changes in day-to-day life like I’ve never seen before. I wanted to document a bit of what this is like mid-stream.
Which means it’s probably a little pessimistic. I’m an idealist by nature, but this whole thing has me feeling kind of bleak. Darkness aside, seems important to document the moment, so here goes.