Image from Soul Food Farm
This weekend I had the time to catch up on reading, and I was dutifully working my way through the May 4th edition of The New Yorker when I started reading Jill Lepore’s article, “Blood on the Green.” I read the first paragraph, stopped, and checked the date on the magazine: May 4th.
Lepore’s article was written to mark the fiftieth anniversary of the Kent State shootings and it is, nominally, about those shootings. But it is really about shootings ten days after the Kent State shootings – shootings of two Black men, killed by police on the Jackson State campus in Mississippi, and the history of police violence and brutality towards Black Americans. The beginning of the last paragraph reads:
No one has been punished, and no one is going to be. Except everyone’s been punished, the whole nation has suffered, and will keep on suffering, until the shooting stops.
Since the article was published, there has been another killing of a Black man by the police. The death of George Floyd has outraged a nation and the world, and in a few weeks the white world seems to have taken real notice of the gross injustices and inequalities that exist for Black people, because they do live in a parallel, more dangerous, less just reality.
From across the Atlantic, I listened to the podcasts and read the articles to try to understand a cultural experience so different from mine in my own country. Part of what I read reminded me of a state of being. I, like most people, coexist in my daily life with the effects of some sort of non-physical trauma – the kind you can’t see but that cripples you in many ways. Some of the experiences of being Black in America that I’ve listened to and read about in these past weeks resonate in part with that experience of individual trauma. It has blown my mind to think about how a culture heals from such trauma enough to feel safe, coexist, and thrive within the culture that perpetrates the trauma.
One of the steps is for the perpetrators to become aware of and recognize the trauma that they inflict. And another is to want to change their behavior so that it doesn’t cause such trauma. It seems like in the past month, maybe white people are getting closer to taking those steps.
Last week, I went to Florence to have the meetings that had been rescheduled due to the Coronavirus lockdown started. Italy is in its third phase of reopening, and before my meeting, I took a walk around the center of Florence. Many shops and restaurants were still closed, and apart from a few Italian tourists, I had the famous piazzas of Florence almost to myself. The few stores that were open had strict physical distancing rules in place, and I bought a gelato right before lunch to support the local gelateria.
That evening, I had dinner with some friends at a restaurant that had just reopened. The restaurant owner was beaming behind her mask to finally be able to serve people meals again, and the atmosphere was one of hope even if the road out of the economic crisis was going to be long. Next to our table was a table of older Italians who were getting together for the first time probably since early March. Their conversation turned to the events in the U.S. It was impossible not to eavesdrop in the small space as they talked about the horror at the violence in the U.S., and as they asked how the police could do such a thing. A woman at the table was stunned at how the onlookers could watch and not intervene.
I often write about sustainability, and how I try to implement the concepts of sustainability in the farming that I do. The concept of sustainability is often broken down into three parts – economic, environmental, and social. And while the first two parts are a significant challenge, it is the third factor where we often fall short. What do we mean by social sustainability?
“Except everyone’s been punished, the whole nation has suffered, and will keep on suffering…”
By social sustainability, we mean that as long as one person or part of a community suffers, the whole community suffers. For a community to be sustainable, there must be the conditions for everyone to thrive. As the white members of the community begin to understand on a larger scale how we have created conditions that allow us to thrive at the expense of the Black members of the community, the road to social sustainability perhaps begins to take more concrete forms.
In a moment where there has been so much death and loss, sadness and anger, devastation and unfairness, we have choices for how we rebuild and face our future that can have lasting effects on the sustainability of our communities.
Our words matter. Our actions matter. Black Lives Matter.