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.