Last week I chaired a meeting of the Dakota County Library Advisory Committee. Since joining the committee in 2019, we’ve had exactly one member of the public attend our meetings and no one has ever spoken during the public comments.
Last week an estimated 150 people attended our meeting, with more waiting outside, and 37 people spoke (including half a dozen teens) before we cut off the comment period. Local news was filming as well (though I haven’t seen a story run yet).
Running that kind of meeting is daunting.
It’s hard to explain what it meant to have a few familiar faces in the crowd.
All things considered, I think the meeting went very well. Our committee listened with politeness and respect. I’m grateful and honored to served with such an amazing group of book lovers.
Today, on Martin Luther King Jr. Day, I finished reading When They Call You a Terrorist: A Black Lives Matter Memoir by Patrisse Khan-Cullors and asha bandele. I often try to read something by King or a related topic on MLK Day, not in a performative way (though blogging about it doesn’t help), but to help center my thoughts.
This year, when things seem calm and quiet (forgotten), when the fury of 2020 George Floyd protests is an aberration, it seemed fitting to read a modern voice.
Too often MLK Day is quotes from 60 years ago, voices so far removed from our current reality that you don’t see the continued struggle.
This year, it seemed important to read about the current struggle. I didn’t intentionally pick it, but reading from one of my contemporaries, someone near to my own age (actually younger), makes it a lot harder to shake with rage at Bloody Sunday or the firehoses or the dogs and think I’d have done something.
Reading these stories, that happened in my lifetime and still happen, make me feel, make me realize, that I am complicit.
This book is really a justification of Black Lives Matter, the term and the idea, as well as the movement. It’s a recitation of all the harms and injustices that from a “hatred that tells a person daily that their life and the life of those they love ain’t worth shit, a truth made ever more real when the people who harm you are never held accountable.” (187)
Today is Trans Visibility Day. I see you. I love you. I am here for you.
These past few months have felt like a dark time for the trans community. I’m sorry.
We’re in a place right now where attacks on the LGBTQ community, and specifically trans folks, are coming fast and furious. Not just from a minority of bigots and haters, but from state governments and seemingly an entire political party. Not just a few red states (where these bills are passing and becoming law), but nearly the entire country.
I’ll say this as simply as I can: This is a civil rights issue. Some people want to deny LGBTQ people their civil rights because they some how think that’s wrong or feel threatened by it. But it’s discrimination, it’s rooted in hate, and it’s evil. It’s anti-American.
And no, I don’t care about your religious exemption or your fake concern for women’s sports or your gross and wrong conflation of abuse and homosexuality (ready for “grooming” to become the new scare-word?). There’s no excuse for hate.
Here’s why I think this issue is so simple: Kids are dying.
You either care about those kids and want to see them live, or you don’t.
The news is really hard right now (as if it hasn’t been for months and years and… oh). Russia invaded Ukraine. Texas is trying to bully trans kids. People are trying to ban books and pretend racism wasn’t so bad and doesn’t exist today.
It’s just a lot.
It’s hard to focus, it’s hard to work, it’s hard to stop doom scrolling. (guilty)
When that happens, I find it best to focus on small acts of love and kindness.
So among other things, I shared this on social media today from my West St. Paul Reader accounts (nothing gives me more joy than using my platforms to be a positive voice):
“I could not look my granddaughter in the eye and tell her things needed to change but do nothing to change them.”
I went to the Rally for Trans Kids in Hastings today, in response to the bigoted hate poured out on Hastings school board member Kelsey Waits and her family by a ‘concerned parents’ group in the community. The group outed Waits’ 8-year-old trans child and has created an environment so hostile the family doesn’t feel safe and had to move.
“Transgender kids are the most at-risk kids in our schools for suicide. Almost 50 percent of transgender students will attempt suicide, and that’s in Minnesota and nationwide. And what research is starting to show is that by supporting these kids, you decrease their risk of suicide. You’re saving their lives.”
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
A work-at-home dad wrestles with faith, social justice & story.