A friend posted a link to Black in the Time of Smith (For people of color, Smith is as ‘fascinating’ as being punched in the stomach) by Ijeoma Oluo and commented that “why this election matters, and why I might hold my nose and vote for a candidate I dislike.”
“It is not about thumbing your nose at the establishment.” he added, “It’s about protecting the little progress we’ve made.” And I replied: Change is hard; it’s slow and it’s so fragile.
Before I start talking about myself, let me note: Ms. Oluo’s commentary is about something far more urgent than the slow pace of progress and about something more urgent than my personal relationship to social progress. Her acute observation that: We always suspected that the vaguely racist white man would turn violent when his ability to casually oppress was threatened. When his ability to at least see himself as above us was taken away. is painful and critical. Those are the stakes and anyone principled must stand in the way of–must act to prevent–those voices taking power.
I was not responding to Ms. Oluo’s commentary–her commentary does not need my analysis; it needs my listening and I owe it my sharing; I was responding to my friend’s belief that we have a duty to oppose Smith, in order to preserve the incremental progress we’ve made, while we continue to fight for more.
So, at Facebook, a college friend shared an article and commented that this election “is not about thumbing your nose at the establishment. It’s about protecting the little progress we’ve made.” And I replied: Change is hard; it’s slow and it’s so fragile.
Actually, I had typed many many words in reply but decided I was talking too much on someone else’s wall at Facebook and deleted them in favor of the incomplete thought shared above. Now I’m going to try to recreate my original response.
I work for a small court reform organization which aims to improve access to justice in both the civil and criminal courts. When I say “small”, I mean three full time staff and an annual budget below the operating budget necessary to win grants from most major funders. We are successful; in part because we’re focused on relationships, but also because we are not afraid of small progress. We don’t set out to take baby steps; our reform plans are usually sweeping and as inclusive as we can make them.
But institutions, like battleships, don’t turn swiftly or sharply. And culture–whether that’s your domestic relations court division, your neighborhood or your country–does not shift rapidly in the absence of cataclysm. Institutions, and people, need to develop comfort with small change first before embracing large change or, sometimes, even before taking the next small step forward.
That’s what at stake all the time. It’s exhausting.