There are concepts that I can hear explained and accept as true, but that I do not fully understand how to apply correctly and consistently in practice. Take physics. I memorized theorems and principles and plugged-in numbers well enough for high school physics, but the concepts never came naturally to me.
Moral silhouette. Such an evocative phrase. While I quickly recall the general topic of the article wherein I saw it—the Berlin Wall—and I recall the phrase—moral silhouette—so evocative while still so malleable, yet I cannot recall the source of the article or the precise meaning the author imparted to this phrase. Was it the wall itself, the people who resisted it, the people who built it, or the Cold War in totality whose moral silhouettes the author was seeking to evoke? It could be any or all of the above. Some manifest in my mind as negative space for the harm done, some more like old-fashioned silhouette paper cuttings, for persons of courage in the face of brutality. These are events of my lifetime. How long beyond the lives of those then living will these moral silhouettes persist?
It sounds so easy, so straightforward. Give someone who could not otherwise afford college a
scholarship and you give them access to a better life. But that transition is not always so easy or
straightforward. Listen to the stories of first-generation college students stumbling through school
unaware of the unstated “rules” and expectations of college. What are office hours? Where do my
parents belong in my life now? How do I socialize with classmates who have so much money?
“How smooth must be the language of the whites, when they can make right look wrong, and wrong look right.”
—Black Hawk, An Autobiography (quote seen on plaque embedded in the sidewalk in Iowa City)
Many LWVMN and LWV of Roseville Area events now incorporate an acknowledgement that our
communities are located on the ancestral lands of Native Americans, the Dakota and Ojibwe peoples here in
Minnesota. I did not initiate this custom, coming to it after hearing it at several events. We are all aware at
some level that the entire North American continent was totally reallocated, reorganized, and just outright
taken from indigenous peoples by European colonists due to orthogonal understandings of the concept of
property and a massive power differential. The land grants from European kings to early colonies had no
ethical foundation and treaties under which millions of acres of land were ceded in the 1800s were grossly
Perhaps you saw it—an editorial page cartoon by Steve Sack in the Star Tribune in the summer of 2020—two houses, two neighbors chatting over the fence, and two signs in one yard. The signs say “Black Lives Matter” and “We Support Our Local Police.” One man is saying to the other man “If you think they conflict maybe it’s you with the problem.” It struck a chord.
I can see why they are so often thought to be orthogonal today. It needn’t be the case.
Perhaps the crux of the conflict comes in the intent behind “support.” For me, support means willingly paying taxes; endorsing a respectful, living wage for all public employees; backing good training for all public safety employees, both before and throughout employment; treating those public safety employees with whom I come into contact with respect, courtesy, and thanks as the situation warrants; and acknowledging the value of the job and the risks it entails.
English, English, English. It is the language of common parlance in the United States and is traditionally considered beneficial for economic success worldwide. But there is another aspect for immigrant families. When learning English comes at the cost of not learning the language of your parents and grandparents, there is profound loss. Loss of connection to elders, culture, identity, history, community…
In Europe it is not uncommon for people to be bilingual, or multi-lingual. English is often the second or third language. It does not erase the other languages, nor does speaking German, French, or Czech as a first language prevent the learning of English. In Africa many people speak multiple languages, a mix of local and colonial. It is not an inherent limitation of the human brain to speak or understand only one form of communication. What is it about the United States that makes bilingualism so difficult to sustain?
One of my sisters taught German at a private school for decades. She is a fluent speaker of German and knowledgeable about the minutiae of German grammar. In retirement, and particularly during the COVID-19 lockdown, she has been trading German lessons for Spanish lessons with another retired colleague who taught Spanish. They meet on Zoom to speak, and give one another practice exercises and options for exploration on DuoLingo. I admire her for even taking on this enterprise.
What is interesting is that despite being an expert at one foreign language, and despite having had some Spanish in high school, she often complains that she just can’t seem to remember all of the new vocabulary she is supposed to be learning. Not long ago she remarked that she has a new sympathy with older immigrants trying to learn English and struggling. Ahhh.
“Fear is the cheapest room in the house. I would like to see you living in better conditions.” Hafiz, Persian poet, 1315-1390
It’s a long time since I have been a renter. There are plusses and minuses to renting versus owning, both in terms of finances and responsibilities. But those questions and choices are irrelevant to many low-income renters in America.
In 2017, sociologist Matthew Desmond won a Pulitzer Prize, and other recognitions, for his searing study, Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City. Though it was highly acclaimed, it did not make it to the top of my reading pile at the time. This year with pandemic related moratoria on evictions, news of gaps in those leading to loss of housing, the visible challenges of balancing the interests of landlords and low-income renters who may be essential workers, and more, it came to mind again.
"For things to reveal themselves to us, we need to be ready to abandon our views about them."—Thich Nhat Hanh, Buddhist monk, poet, peace activist
After the death of John Lewis earlier this summer it felt important to write about his life and work, but everything I penned felt trite or repetitive. My words paled when compared to the eloquent words from those who knew him personally and eulogized him so powerfully at his memorial service. He worked tirelessly all of his life for civil rights growing from a young man who wanted change NOW and was willing to put his very life on the line to challenge bigoted laws, to a revered elder statesman still working with tenacity to keep the unmet goals in the public eye and on the agenda. May he rest in peace at last.
“[What should you do?] Educate Yourself!” Ava Duvernay, PBS Newshour Special, June 5, 2020
You don’t really need me to tell you this. It is everywhere these days. It being discussion of inequities, disparities, misunderstandings, being ignored, or glossed over. But white people really must educate themselves and begin acting. Our collective future depends on it, as well as our souls.