Yes: Black Lives Matter (1)
Black Lives: a marker of progress for white lives?
I haven’t said much about the state of our world since the May 25 death of George Floyd (other than the introductory remarks in my last newsletter, here.) In part, I felt that #BlackoutTuesday and its basis, #TheShowMustBePaused, were meant to focus the world’s attention on Black voices, to encourage everyone to “take a beat for an honest, reflective and productive conversation about what actions we need to collectively take to support the Black community.” On top of that, I could see that the very last thing any of my exhausted Black friends needed was another plaintive and heartfelt apology for the incredible abuses inflicted on them by people who look like me.
So while the world was blowing up, I did my job, launched my book, watched the news, listened to people. I wept and raged and shook my head in disbelief-that-is-no-longer-disbelieving. I watched in awe as people like the angry and eloquent Kimberly Jones spoke her heart:
She’s way more generous than I am. If I’d been around during the French Revolution, I’d have swept through Versailles with a torch.
There’s a paradox inherent in the fact that emancipation is celebrated primarily among African-Americans, and that the celebration is rooted in a perception of slavery as something that happened to black people, rather than something that the country committed. The paradox rests on the presumption that the arrival of freedom should be greeted with gratitude, instead of with self-reflection about what allowed it to be deprived in the first place. Emancipation is a marker of progress for white Americans, not black ones.
The problem is not with Black America, but with the side of the street I live on. In going forward, some of the actions I have decided on are behind the scenes, and will remain there. Seems to me that a person who needs credit for acts of decency is part of the problem.
Other things I decided on are longer term, and you’ll hear about them when they come around. Change only works if it lives past the present.
And then there’s the more immediate act—namely this week of posts here on Mutterings. (And no: if you’re tired of Black Lives Matter, if your head will explode with one more thing to feel guilty about, if life is already making your eyes weep and your ulcer flare, you don’t have to read me this week.)
I write fiction. My audience is incredibly mixed, in age and ethnic heritage and political beliefs. As a storyteller, this is how things work. It always astonishes me to come across a reader who holds vastly different beliefs from mine, but it is absolutely not my job to vet my listeners. The story is the story, and any subversive messaging I sneak in has to be low-key enough to overlook at first glance—not because I’m ashamed of it or want to lose a sale, but because nothing kills fiction faster than the smell of the soap-box. If you’re preaching, it’s not a story, it’s a sermon.
(Though I have a strong, knee-jerk reaction to being told what to do. People who email me saying they won’t buy my book because of something I said or didn’t say, or that I really mustn’t write that kind of book again, always get my second reply—the polite one, after I’ve deleted the first one. If my politics offend you that much, no one is making you buy my book.)
Laura: I’m dead chuffed that Yorkshire Tea hasn’t supported BLM.
Yorkshire Tea: Please don’t buy our tea again.
All of which means that on the one hand, I am a writer of fiction whose political and sociological opinions should be of less concern to the general world than my choice of dishwashing soap. On the other hand, I do have strong opinions, and I am a citizen of the world.
So the time has come to say, yes: Black lives matter.
White and blue and brown lives matter, too, of course they do—but in this country, Black lives have long carried an extraordinary burden, and at this moment, we might—we just might, if we all respond, have a chance to take that burden off the backs of our Black friends and neighbors. Or off their necks. And maybe redeem ourselves a little in the eyes of the future.
Black lives matter.
That’s the theme over the next five days here on Mutterings. I’ll be talking about Black writers, about saying the names of victims, about the idea of “defunding” the police, and some thoughts on where I’m going.
And I’m leaving the comments open, although anyone who loses the thread of rational conversation will be blocked.