The Renaissance on the Horizon
The city where I live is a microcosm for sentiments that are being expressed across the United States via headlines that include words like mayhem, looting, and swarms. Alarm is expressed in opinion pieces and in the comment sections of news articles where protesters for racial justice are described as “cult members” who are “ritually condemn[ing] their own nation, its history, its institutions, its symbols, its flag.” “Send in the troops!” wrote Senator Tom Cotton.
Here in New York, the Times posed what they called “The Agonizing Question: Is New York City Worth It Anymore?” The story was subtitled, “For many, the call of an easier, safer, and more affordable life beckons. But die-hard New Yorkers find the city more appealing than ever.”
I could barely get myself to type out that title. It is heart-wrenching for many reasons.
1.First, it summons to mind the utter blindness and self-centeredness of the (White) people who are asking if it’s worth it to be in the city during this time of protest for racial justice. For centuries, Black people in the United States have not had the luxury of asking what is and isn’t worth it. The Black community survived more than 200 years of existence on this continent with the legal status of Whites’ property. Then, having been prohibited from pursuing an education or earning the money from their own labor (that money went into White pockets), they were emancipated with nothing. “Forty acres and a mule” was repealed the same year it was proposed. They were emancipated with nothing into the legislated Jim Crow repression that lasted into the 1960s. Barred from voting, barred from bank loans, redlined out of White neighborhoods, and segregated out of White schools, the survivors of White-designed-and-enforced Jim Crow legislation are the parents and grandparents of the Americans trying to tell you that their lives matter.
To my point: this time of protest in New York and elsewhere has the potential to usher in, ultimately, a time of rebirth from all that. A birth, a rebirth — a renaissance! — can be painful, but something beautiful is waiting in the wings. To acknowledge and act against the historic and continuing crimes against the humanity of Black Americans is clearly morally and ethically right. To be part of that moral action as a White American promises a new day: a day when we can be done with all the intellectual pretzeling and revisionist historicizing that is necessary when adults set out to deny the obvious. A day when we can look every man, woman, and child squarely in the eye, the day that you understand that just because you’re White, you don’t have to take sides with those crimes against humanity. Interrogate your White flight impulses for what they are, and then celebrate and lift up that other part of you that is saying, stay.
(P.S., Yes, I’m aware that you personally never owned slaves, et cetera. But if you are not part of the solution, you are part of the problem. There is no middle ground. White people who pretend that there is a middle ground are far more dangerous than White nationalists or the KKK.)
2. All of us who live here love the attractions and diversions for which New York is known. But is that the extent of your understanding of what this city is? Seriously?! You’re ready to run away like a fair-weather fan the minute that your customary ease is limited? Looking back over your shoulder to trash us as you go?
The coming renaissance will not be the first that this city has seen — if you know anything about the history of New York, you know that.
We don’t deceive ourselves that New York is perfect. New York is in no way exempt from the problems that exist elsewhere in the United States, plus we have many other problems that are uniquely our own. At the same time, New York is an ideal, an electricity, a possibility, and also the real and down-to-earth city of its lively, brilliant, feisty, generous, outspoken, and creative people. IYKYK. Let the bandwagoners run away. Of course they are issuing doomsday predictions as they go — they have to do that to excuse their ditching. To you who are here, who are here to be part of the healing city, the new normal, the next renaissance: Wow, do I love you.