Thanksgiving was Yesterday
And, today Americans awaken to what the commercial conglomerate has named “Black Friday.” The term originated in 1951 in relation to industry and business owners noting the tendency of workers to call in sick the day after Thanksgiving in order to have a four-day weekend. By the 60’s the term was a derogation on the part of law enforcement officers in Philadelphia who had to deal with significantly increased pedestrian traffic on that day – attributed to shopping. Then, in the 1980’s the term was linked by analogy with accounting ledgers bouncing comfortably into the profit side (i.e., out of the red). From there, the hype has only grown.
In reaction this year, and in mild but no less commercially effective protest, REI stores nationwide are closed. Their well-broadcast message: GO OUTSIDE!
And getting outside may actually be part of the solution.
But shopping on the Friday after Thanksgiving is not and never has been the whole story. Today is no different – in fact, given the volatility ricocheting through human community these days, there’s some urgent responsibility in getting the bigger picture.
Here are other things underway as I type.
- Chicagoans are gathered along the Magnificent Mile, a shopping district in the center of downtown. These citizens are protesting the death of Laquan McDonald at the hands of a Chicago Police system that is just now revealing evidence that the 17-year-old was murdered over a year ago by 16 gunshots discharged in 15 seconds by a single police officer.
- Donald Trump continues getting obsessive press attention, this time as he offers his signature “no big deal” explanation following standing before a giant campaign audience and mocking a man with a disability condition.
- Meanwhile, anxiety continues rippling in the wake of the Paris shootings two weeks ago at the hands of ISIS, with far less attention paid by western media to the murderous horrors underway in Africa at the hands of Boko Haram.
The brutal inhumanity underlying any of these headlines is acute. Its basis is nothing new: Fundamentalist entitlement that, no matter the ideology, has as its lowest expression, the enabling logic, “I’m right. You’re wrong.” And in action, “I live. You die.”
Perhaps U.S. Presidential candidate, Donald Trump’s immature but no less narcissistic performance seems too comparatively mild to be included above. You be the judge of that. To me, the gap is microscopic between violent language and violent action. Violence is violence is violence, my friend, the brilliant writer activist Kathleen G. Saadat has been known to say. She also says oppression is oppression is oppression.
Our job is to stop the violence. Stop the oppression. And getting outside could help – primarily because out in the world, natural and otherwise, each of us stands to learn a lot about community, about our inescapable interdependence.
But right now, I want to call all my white sisters and brothers to listening. More than that. To the radical enactment of listening that may only arise from true humility. Humility that has two essential elements,
- The willingness to be wrong, and
- The capacity to listen past any sense of victimhood in the face of being confronted with race privilege.
It is not useful, nor is there time right now, to argue a position of “I didn’t enslave anybody” or any variation on that. It is not useful to get stuck in, “I’m ready to listen, but you’re being so mean.”
Ten days ago, Dalai Lama gave all of us very clear instruction. “Don’t pray for Paris. Work for peace.” He went on, “Humans have created this problem, and now we are asking God to solve it. It is illogical. God would say, solve it yourself because you created it in the first place.” And finally, “It is in everybody’s interest. So let us work for peace within our families and society, and not expect help from God, Buddha or the governments.”
Worry is never enough. Social or interpersonal paralysis to avoid offending is never enough. The circumstances we live in, we have perpetuated. All of us together. Some who have been most damaged as groups by these circumstances are finding voice. They are standing up, and often together. Only people of privilege have the time and freedom to stop with worry or social paralysis – and violence; verbal, physical or political only stamps the original problem more rigidly into place.
Here’s another privilege. The time to consider all of this. It’s not just a privilege of white people, but most of us have it, that time. Especially those of us with jobs. But, again, considering by itself is nothing.
“Work for peace.” We must do it now – and we will do best when we lean in with each other to garner the energy and intelligence, and to practice the humility necessary for listening very closely. For joining in action that is actually dignifying, actually healthy, actually human.