“We are trapped in history and history is trapped in us,” James Baldwin said. Perhaps, it is time to remove the snare, to be free to live in the moment. To receive the present as a gift of newness.
While I am certainly one who loves history, reflection and meditating on words of old, I do believe that there is a time for history and that history has its place. It is to be respected but not necessarily repeated, especially not for the purpose of wounding. As it relates to race and more specifically, the tragedy that happened and is happening in Ferguson, repetition can pick at a wound rather than (re-)examine it. Repetition in word or in deed not only reopens the wound but can begin the healing process all over again. It can increase our recovery time so we must be careful what we say in terms of race.
There is a purpose for history that is often lost on days like this one when cities like Ferguson may remind us of days long ago. Too often, more time is spent focusing on the pain of history and not the progress of time. America has overcome a great deal and while the fact is that Mr. Michael Brown, Jr. and Officer Darren Wilson are viewed through the social construct of race, making them socially colored black and white respectively and fitting them neatly into the racial narrative, their story is not the same. Too quickly and rather to simply, we reduce the death to ‘white’ against ‘black,’ another casualty in the often unspoken but assumed ‘race war.’ But, death is much more complicated than this.
The date and time, the characters, the setting, the circumstances are all different. Mr. Brown is not Mr. Trayvon Martin and Mr. Martin is not Mr. Emmett Till or any other African American killed in recent or past days, months or even years. And Officer Darren Wilson is not Mr. George Zimmerman and Mr. Zimmerman is not Mr. Roy Bryant or Mr. J.W. Milam. These are all different people at different times whose actions must not be grouped together and made to represent one impossible, endless present.
We can look back on our history but we must not step back into it. We are better than we were and we can be better than we have been. These deaths though grievous should not stereotype all of America’s relations with each other. All over the country, many persons have formed friendships and are choosing to form familial relationships with persons of other cultures. This is something that would not have existed or happened in the past in public or on a large scale and says very clearly that we are not as hateful, stereotypical, prejudiced or segregated as we once were.
And given our history, we should want to progress. Given our history, we should want to change the time that we live in now. Given our history, we should know what works and what doesn’t. Given our history, we should stop repeating it and choose today, to be fully present to listen, accept, apologize, forgive and reconcile for what is happening now… not allowing any more time to pass.
History should not be a burden, an old and bitter person spewing hatred, resentment and unforgiveness. History and all of time really is a blessing, providing perspective, clarity and understanding with a spirit of peace, gentleness and humility. If not, then history has no lesson for us, having not learned from its time and neither will we.