16 November 2016
To My Students During this Night:
What shall we do in the face of a nation that has pointed its finger again toward some as the object of fear and hate? We will not slump our shoulders to appear tired. We will not bite our tongues and swallow blood. We will not cower in dark corners and despair. We shall continue to be ourselves, calling forth the inevitable future that is within us.
We will eat the words of Franz Fanon. We will drink the milk of Audre Lourde. We will sing the songs James Baldwin sang. We will walk the path cleared by Ida B. Wells-Barnett. We will stand in the place of Fannie Lou Hamer. We will dress in the clothes of Septima Clarke. We will honor the sacrifices of Martin and Malcolm and Medgars. We will drive boldly into the night like Goodman, Chaney, and Schwerner. We will remember Tamir Rice, Sandra Bland, Freddye Gray, Michael Brown, Alberta Spruill, Rekia Boyd, Shantel Davis, Trayvon Martin, Eric Garner, Shelley Frey, Kayla Moore, Kyam Livingston, Walter Scott, Miriam Carey, Michelle Cusseaux, John Crawford, III and Tanisha Anderson. We will ponder the Book of Changes. We will sit at Confucius’s feet and study Sun Tzu’s Art of War. We will rest like Jesus. Then we will rise as Maya Angelou foresaw.
Langston Hughes told us who we were. W. E. B. Du Bois diagnosed the condition. Toni Morrison brought back the memory of those who still haunt our houses. Kendrick Lamar promises us a future.
But what shall we do today?
Today calls for language and precision. There is no need for us to measure ourselves against hate. Or even to pay it much attention. History shows us that hatefulness has always been part of nation-building. Instead, let’s turn our attention to those things that we can manage. Do not ask for permission. Create safe spaces wherein we can be ourselves unapologetically. Where we can speak in our own languages and find new words to call those things that be not as though they are. We can envision new roads and new pathways upon which others will walk. We will install new codes using language that says who we are.
We will confront the awesome fearsomeness of ourselves. We will look at the open wounds and broken bones, which have not been properly set. We will uncover terrible scars. We will name our rage and voice our fear. But we will also cite our joy and articulate our desires. We will see ourselves as capable of the full range of humanity in all its terrible wonder. And we will quell the ice and shadow as we nurture the heat and light within us.
Valerie Sweeney Prince, PhD