Is there power in “truths laid bare”?

I started blogging here on January 6, 2019.

I planned to post on January 6, 2021 to celebrate two years of thinking aloud in this space.

I planned to speak of the posts turned into commentaries, the posts that paved the way to articles, or those that reverberate in the pages of my forthcoming Lessons from Plants book.

I planned to thank those who have interacted with me on topics raised here for contributing to my ponderings, reflections, the written offerings I’ve attempted to produce therefrom.

Then it was the January 6, 2021.

I like so many others of you watched as white supremacists attempted to (continue to) impose their will at all costs. Many here in America and abroad responded by saying this is not America. Others who know the truth of American history, said and know otherwise.

Many—here in America and around the globe—said that our truths were being laid bare and that now we would deal with these truths. They said we “have to” do so.

Many voiced a similar sentiment about the racial “reckoning” that (purportedly) emerged in the wake of the highly visible murder of George Floyd at the hands of the police. Some of these same people spoke the names of Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, and countless other before and since. Some of us watched this “reckoning” with hopes that it would really live up to the definition rather than being a simple “recognition” that we’ve seen in past instances.

Throughout 2020, we collectively spoke about the truths laid bare concerning the intersection of systemic racism in America and public health as we watched COVID-19 ravage our nation as a whole; yet, having a significantly greater impact on Indigenous, Black and Latine communities across the nation.

I’ve thought a lot about the power of truths laid bare—more so that ever in the past year or more.

Common lore would have us believe that there is SIGNIFICANT power in truths laid bare.

I’m not so certain this alone is true.

Truths laid bare must be accompanied by accountability and consequences for their transgression, and there must be real action to deal with the truths and their impacts once they are laid bare.

In the absence of a real and expeditious trajectory for addressing the truths that have been exposed through tangible and material ways, the baring of truths alone can lead to repeated trauma, eroded trust, depletion of hope.

Truths laid bare in the absence of action and reconciliation are equivalent to continuing to open and close a wound without providing adequate cleansing and treatment after opening and before re-closing.

The thing that I am grappling with—successfully some days and woefully unsuccessfully on others—is where the “cleansing and treatment” are for the multiple wounds that have been opened in the wake of COVID-19, our most recent national encounter with racial “reckoning”, and other gaping wounds that sit unattended or worse yet closed from view and allowed to continue to fester.

Public or solidarity statements are not cleansing nor treatment.

Committees that produce conversation and policies on paper in the absence of real commitment of resources and REAL action are not cleansing nor treatment.

Hiring leaders who espouse commitments to cleansing and treatment, yet have limited evidence of lived commitments to cleansing and treatment are not the answer. Without a commitment to move beyond espoused to a firm-footed existence in lived commitments, we’ll only persist in a different version of inequality and mistruths.

Truths laid bare hold little to no power in isolation.

Truths laid bare must be powerfully coupled to bold values-driven leadership, collective commitment, real accountability, and so much more to hold power.

We need truths laid bare, yet to avoid repetitive trauma to those whose harm, mis-valuing, and proverbial and literal deaths are exposed in the telling of truths, we have to get beyond congratulating ourselves on telling truths and get to work on dealing with—and ultimately cleansing and healing—what’s been exposed by the truths told.

The latter is where the power of “truths laid bare” resides.

If you have comments on this post, as always find me on Twitter—@BerondaM.

The pursuit of a ‘better’ inequality?

I can no longer commit to “better inequality” as a goal or victory. I long for the collective commitment to move from espoused to lived.

My body is on vacation though my mind decidedly is not.

Annually I seek out a new place, or revisit on “old favorite”, for my end-of-year vacation. New locations distract my mind with explorations of places, foods, and often people unknown—or at the very least not commonly familiar—to me.

I’ve been a long-time adventurer according to my mother who describes how nearly from the time I could talk I’d ask to tag-along on an adventure with friends or family who stopped by to visit en route elsewhere.

The challenges of the global pandemic of 2020 left me making a decision to have a “stay-cation” this year in hopes of doing my small part in curbing the spread of coronavirus. That said, getting the mental break that often comes with new adventures in new places, or revisited adventures in favorite places, wasn’t an option for me this year. So, I “sit” in vacation mode at home.

This has left me much time to read, as well as to think—and many of my thoughts have centered on my concerns about so much that has happened in 2020. While I have continued concerns about the spread of coronavirus and the disease COVID-19 that it causes, as well as the continued grave loss of so many lives that we’ve not fully reckoned with or grieved collectively, I’ve also continued to reflect deeply on 2020 as the purported year of “racial reckoning”.

I guess I err on the side of caution—the caution of having lived multiple decades as a Black woman in America and the generations of caution imbued in me from the experiences of my Black ancestors—and think of 2020 more in line with Wikipedia as the year of “racial unrest”.

I certainly felt even more strongly than ever that we have heightened attention to racial unrest, rather than a deep-rooted racial reckoning, given the upwards of 75M who voted for a leader who is decidedly racist. This reality indeed stopped me literally for some days post-election.

If this country is indeed ever to have a true racial reckoning we will need more truth-tellers like writer and critic Kiese Laymon who declares the following in his recent, re-released essay collection How to Slowly Kill Yourself and Others in America:

“Anti-Blackness [is]…an addiction broken only by honest reckoning, consistent practice, and welcoming of radical spirits.”

Kiese Laymon, How to Slowly Kill Yourself and Others in America, p. 12

Being in a state of “racial reckoning” in America was declared after the national attention on anti-Blackness and anti-racism in the summer of 2020 following the latest killings of Black Americans at the hands of police, including George Floyd and Breonna Taylor, among so many others.

Many picked up books and shared public reflections on the change that needed to come. Many declared that the focus on this topic was happening in a way that they had not seen before. These declarants included wise public elders such as Angela Davis and my personal ones including my mother, who grew up in the segregated South. My mother, who but for being pulled from school many days to “pick cotton” might have been the first professor in our family, rather than me a generation later.

I believed them in the moment when they stated that this time was different–I still endeavor to believe them. But 75+ million….

Also, if I am completely transparent with you…and after having written and published some of the pieces I’ve written this year including declaring that “I am not Your Savioress” (in the anthology edited by Nicole Joseph titled Understanding the Intersections of Race, Gender, and Gifted Education), why stop now?!

Truth is I don’t [hopefully not yet, rather than not never] have the trust I should in my colleagues and community members that they will commit to the long-term, difficult, and uncomfortable collective work that will be required to move from an understanding of 2020 as the year of “racial unrest” to 2020 as the START of true “racial reckoning”. I genuinely don’t trust—just yet—that the current structure of academia will follow through on all of the Black solidarity or anti-Black racism statements. I don’t trust the current structure of academia to do much consistently other than pursue the scarcity of hierarchy, the continued delusion of meritocracy, and ongoing rat race of quantitative metrics, as well as to persist in fear of the “radical” and indeed to disavow, rather than welcoming, “radical spirits”.

Kiese has told us that the path requires reckoning and the radical. We have an “espoused reckoning” that must mature, indeed must aspire, to be a “lived” one.

All I have control over is me. So, as I try to vacation, rest and restore, I commit to move ahead into 2021 continuing to cultivate and guard my radical spirit, my truth-telling soul so that I can stand ready to be a part of breaking our collective addiction to inequality.

But as 2020 ends, I must admit that I fear that our incomplete commitment—indeed our inability and perhaps abject failure—to understand that our espoused “reckoning” is truly just recognition of “unrest” rather than a reckoning in the sense of acknowledging and settling.

Recognition is simply awareness. And in terms of awareness of racial unrest, I think of what Imani Perry says about awareness in her book Breathe. She states:

“Awareness is not a virtue in and of itself, not without a moral imperative.”

Imani Perry, Breathe, pp. 18-19

Our [false] need to believe that we are reckoning with the “thing” rather than [re-]recognizing or simply having heightened awareness of it will only lead us to “better inequality” rather than the raw and real pursuit of equity as a “moral imperative” that we truly need.

I can no longer commit to “better inequality” as a goal or victory. I long for the collective commitment to move from espoused commitment to pursue equity to lived and essential commitment to do so.

In 2021, you’ll continue to find me in all of my radical and truth-telling fullness on Twitter—@BerondaM.

What lies beneath…

I spent the last week after the elections, and while awaiting the outcomes, in deep reflection.

The recent U.S. elections, including for President, left me holding a multitude of complex responses and emotions.

Triumph and tragedy…

Thoughts about identity and humanity…

Reflections on surface appearances and what lies beneath…

Election day made some things incredibly clear to me, we have much to be concerned about. The vast number of votes for a candidate who has been boldly self-centered and “other hating” fell squarely in the category of “disappointed but not surprised” for me.

I’ve been in this “destination” many times before (documented above in 2017), and multiple times in this year of 2020 alone!

As we’ve watched the needless suffering and deaths of so many Americans (rapidly approaching 240,000 and tragically still increasing as of November 9, 2020) from COVID-19 due to a lack of discipline, severe leadership deficit, and a lack of shared commitment to prioritize the collective over the individual.

I’ve also arrived at the unwanted “surprised but not disappointed” destination in my area of work in higher education. Countless individuals pledged to “do better” in the summer as they participated in #ShutDownAcademia #ShutDownSTEM in June 2010. In most cases, we still await substantial and visible outcomes, as well as committed paths to long-term change, associated with those pledges.

So in the past days as it became clear that so many Americans—approaching 71 million at the time of writing this post—made their way or sent their ballot to the polls in support of all that the outgoing President represented (indeed represents about the state of relations in the U.S.), I was literally stopped in my tracks momentarily and confronted with continuing truths about this country.

Because I can hold and process multitudes, I refused to go on without stopping to acknowledge and to appropriately celebrate that slightly more Americans voted for the Biden/Harris ticket and, thus, it appears that we will resume some “normalcy” to our U.S. politics. However, I also fully held, and continue to hold, the simultaneous truth that “normalcy” isn’t all it should, can, or in my hopeful days, will be for some of us—too many of us who have been marginalized, minoritized, and traumatized, even before these last 4 years.

So as I discussed in a recent talk for #BlackInMicro Week, for many who are marginalized in this country, we too frequently meet triumph and tragedy simultaneously. For me most recently this has meant celebrating my son’s graduation from high school in the large shadow of the murder of George Floyd, officially starting a new professional role nearly simultaneously with the tragedy of injustice related to Breonna Taylor’s murder, and now welcoming the news of a change in the presidential office, together with the historic nature of Kamala Harris’s vice presidency, in the face of the reality of that ~71 million votes.

That VAST numbers of supporters for the lunacy, traumatization, and so much worse that so many have faced for the past four years was something that I processed quietly, yet deeply. Indeed, the impact has been profound and ongoing.

I understand that so much of it is the realization of how we have so harmfully prioritized individual over collective time and again. How the fact that 71 million individuals could vote for a desire to continue under the U.S.’s current leadership represents the numerous ways in which identity is prioritized over humanity—again the individual over the shared/collective.

I understand how and why so many have felt a need to publicly celebrate the election outcomes. It is indeed celebration worthy; yet, I am deeply troubled and impacted daily—even from hour to hour, and minute to minute—not only by what the surface celebrations represent in terms of people rightly feeling relief, and maybe some feeling hope. I am even more deeply impacted by what lies beneath…what that 71 million represents about what lies beneath.

There is so much that we need to confront, address, and root out.

But I’ll leave those thoughts for another day, another time…there is reason to celebrate, but there’s also reason (in fact more than 71 million reasons) for me to continue to stand as firmly as ever rooted as a truth teller and to prepare to continue working boldly for change and much needed transformation.

I will undoubtedly do so, but I must first continue to prioritize processing.

I need to further reflect and recover, and to continue to strategize and prepare…even as the celebrations prevail. The worthy recognition of this historic moment for women and the marginalized who see themselves represented for the first time as VP deserve due attention and celebration, as we continue to hope for (and boldly work towards) better days ahead.