Friday, July 8, 2016

Then. Now. Always?

On July 4th, while I was at work, I listened to the Broadway cast recording of 'Ragtime,' because it's a story about America. I listened to 'Hamilton' as well, for the same reason. (I'm very much my father's child that way- listening to music, especially musicals, based on the season.) 

'Ragtime' was first produced in the late 1990s, based on E.L. Doctorow's 1975 novel of the same title, which takes place in New York at the turn of the 20th century. (Just so we're clear, that's a 100+ year old history.) It follows the American experiences of a wealthy white family, a Latvian immigrant and his daughter, and a black family with a new baby. Their stories intertwine, as all of our stories tend to do, and one very important piece of that is a white woman realizing her privilege and using it to help a black woman in crisis. It's a story about discrimination based on race, class, and gender. 
Sound familiar?

It's the story of America, THEN,
but it feels like it's the story of America NOW. 
And that's a problem.

These are some of the lyrics to a song in Act 2 of the show, "Till We Reach That Day." (If you're unfamiliar with this particular show, I would highly recommend it- I cry every time I listen to it.) Some context: An unarmed black woman was beaten to death by white men. This is the scene where everyone mourns for her. The ensemble is made up of several groups of people- black, white, immigrants, men, women, etc. It's very intersectionally feminist.

There's a day of hope
May I live to see,
When our hearts are happy
And our souls are free.
Let the new day dawn,
Oh, Lord, I pray.
We'll never get to heaven
Till we reach that day.

 It's a day of peace.
A day of pride.
A day of justice
We have been denied.
Where a man can live,
And a child can play.
We'll never get to heaven
Till we reach that day.

To counteract the sadness and darkness of the world around me, I surround myself with beautiful things. I love the people in my life with extra zeal. But that's not enough. And I feel helpless. 
And I'm not used to feeling helpless. 
(That's because I was lucky enough to be born white and wealthy and able bodied and heterosexual and identify with the lady parts I was born with. Sound ridiculous? That's because it is.)
But you know what? It's super important that those of us with privilege get a taste of the helplessness and fear that marginalized peoples experience on an average day. It's not okay. If some of us are treated poorly for no good reason, it's a problem for everyone, because we are all connected. 
Why can't we see that? Why do we pretend it's not true?
How many times does the same story have to be retold before we decide that it matters?
How many more lives need to be lost? How many more children need to be suddenly fatherless? 
This country is like a lead-up to a joke with no punchline.
How many dead black men does it take for America to get a grip?
How hard is it to treat one another with respect? Seriously, not hard. 
I'm tired of crying and worrying and hurting for the world. None of it is making a difference. 
All I have in this world is my heart and my voice. And there you have it.

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