More and more people across our city and country are getting vaccinated, COVID restrictions continue to lift, and the world around us seems to be springing into full-swing with busier schedules and growing summer plans. Things are starting to feel more “normal,” but how “new” will this normal be? We have all had conversations about the things that will never be the same after COVID, but how invested are we in building a new normal formed by the lessons we have learned over the past year?
Recently Country Club Christian Church hosted a watch party for an event hosted by American Public Square, a local nonprofit that “brings together non-like-minded people to engage in civil, fact-based dialogue about controversial, potentially polarizing topics that impact our city, region, nation and world.” APS invited Professor Eddie S. Glaude Jr. from Princeton University for a conversation about his recent book Begin Again: James Baldwin’s America and Its Urgent Lessons for Our Own. In the hour-long conversation, Glaude shared about the lessons he’s learned researching the life and work of James Baldwin (1924-1987) a renown author both of beautiful fiction and of critical commentary on the state of racism in our society. Glaude’s insight was potent for conversation about what it means for faith communities to partner with God’s work of justice and creative transformation. James Baldwin said that racism is a lie, “an architecture of stories” woven into our social structure and infused into the way we all think (regardless of our own racial or ethnic identity). Glaude unpacked this idea and explored how racism is a lie that covers up pain; people cling to hate in a variety of forms because they cannot confront their own pain and truly love themselves. In the catalyzing text The Fire Next Time, Baldwin says “I imagine one of the reasons people cling to their hates so stubbornly is because they sense, once hate is gone, they will be forced to deal with pain.”
Glaude connected this with the work of reparations— the complicated effort to “right the wrongs” of racism in our country’s history. The inequality we witness today did not happen by accident, and the work of reparations “starts with the acknowledgement that racial inequality is not the result of happenstance, but of deliberate choices,” Glaude explained. “We need to be as deliberate in the remedy as we were deliberate in creating the process.” Reparations is more than a financial commitment and is rooted in an acknowledgement that releases us “into a different way of seeing ourselves,” a different way of being that is untethered to the lie of racism that is ingrained into our thinking and the stories we all tell ourselves.
Another question to which Glaude responded was a broad one: “What does it take to speed us up [in our work of societal change]?” He said, “Courage. A willingness to risk it all. And a… ‘conjunctural moment’— a moment of crisis and possibility, when all the traditional assumptions seem to be collapsing right in front of us.” He said that conjunctural moments are frightening (they are indeed crises!) and are moments of great possibility and expedient change as we can build something new out of the brokenness. COVID has has very much been a “conjunctural moment,” between the direct effects of sickness and death, the rippling effects of stay-at-home orders, and the inequalities in our society exacerbated by both. The next few months will undoubtedly be exciting— but they also pose us with an important challenge: Will we simply strive to go back to the old normal? Or will we take advantage of the “conjunctural moment” we’re still living in and dare to be courageous, lean in, and follow God’s dream of building a more just and whole world together?