Some Thoughts on Recent Events in Historical Context

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the Black Lives Movement and its relationship to history. It’s somewhat unavoidable to see correlatives between 2016 and 1856.

It’s easy to blame on a “bad” few police officers or district attorneys. But as the Songs attempt to convey, the truth is we live in a deeply divided and inequitable society. Our divisions reach back centuries, and though we continue to progress, these divisions are exposed when we are under stress as a nation. 400 years of brutal enslavement has consequences. (And so does an obsession with firearms and another generation of negligent lawmakers.)

Now is a time for us to be humble and courageous. To face our faults. As we have before. And as we will again. And again. A long road lays before us.  I think it’s worth noting that few societies in history have faced such huge challenges in part because so few have been, at the same time, so open. And even fewer have faced them as bravely as we have. As we must. This is the the unique irony of America.

There is good research on this where I work at the University of Colorado. Officers must make split second decisions under incredible stress.  Training informs them. But also fear and the fact they have been socialized by a divided society. As we all have. They must be prosecuted swiftly and harshly. But demonizing them excuses the rest of us.  There’s more we can do.

I, for example, want my son, as a white man, to understand this, and to be mindful of our values of universal love, forgiveness, and non-violence when he makes decisions. To recognize the racism and sexism he is indoctrinated into, so they do not make decisions for him. We are proud of our ancestry–Irish, German, Scots, Greeks–fleeing poverty, war, starvation, and oppression. Working hard and building a better life for me and him. But at the cost of others. Indirectly perhaps. Unintentionally perhaps. But we must recognize it, and be humble enough to see: he and I, we are privileged.

And that he, and I, are also blessed with a unique opportunity to change this, one white guy, one moment, at a time. We don’t want to see our black brothers and sisters, or our civil servants, die this way. It shames us. We grieve for them.

I try and convey this in my book talks, and I think it’s really what the jayhawk and its later manifestations in these novels–indeed, the novels themselves–suggest: to be aware of the beasts in the darkness, so we don’t blindly follow them.

We have another moment to do that right now in this country. To peer into the deep fault lines running across our society, and in seeing them, continue bridging them. As long as we keep doing that, we’re fine. But I shudder to think of what happens when we don’t.