Our SociaL and Eco-JUSTICE Witness
Provost & Dean of the Faculty
Professor of Sociology
If you have not heard the names of these fellow Americans—George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and Ahmaud Arbery—look them up, talk about them with your friends and family.
I am bone-tired of black people being killed in our beds, out jogging, birdwatching, at swimming pools or in sandboxes living our lives. The sociologist in me wonders whether the more the humanity of people unlike dominant group members becomes irrefutable, recognized, and understood, the more people in power need to drive wedges between all of us. It is extraordinary that our country has achieved the diversity it has in as many political, managerial and leadership positions as it has, given the many forms of mutually reinforcing systems of oppression. These achievements have come at the price of protests and prayers, lawsuits and confrontations, the willingness to face fear and go forward anyway; they are *not* because America has “always been the home of the free and the brave” or “a land of opportunity and openness.”
I’ve found it stunning to watch as propaganda that dehumanizes subdominant people of power seems to increase with genuine threats to the hoarding of power and privilege by those in the dominant group; propaganda increases the more actual democracy works. Such propaganda has become more subtle and ubiquitous. This may be a desperate holding on to power and privilege of the few, but its consequences are deadly and horrifying. State-sponsored violence has seemed to increase from our collective willingness to tolerate children separated from parents and placed into cages on our southern border to acts of explicit violence against Asian Americans when our President calls Covid-19 the “Chinese virus.” Violence has been both explicit and implicit leading to death rates at two, three and five times those in privileged communities as the disease spreads among people confined to tight neighborhoods, buildings with poor ventilation, among those who are considered essential workers, among those without access to enough clean water or adequate health care. State sponsored violence has seemed to rise with the number of police officers now patrolling the country’s streets (more than ever before in the United States) and with the numbers of people, particularly black, brown and red people, in the criminal (in)justice system.
With the authentic possibility that a majority of people might actually want to live in a society where health care and education and food security and mutual respect are common public goods seems to have come an almost maniacal social panic among white people with less privilege and status fueled by white people of greater privilege or status that “the end is near.” (Though the mania has taken hold among some affluent whites as well.)
Make no mistake, terrorizing people—as these relentless shootings, stranglings and beatings have done—who clean bathrooms, work as teachers and nurse’s aides, drive buses, deliver mail, and earn their livelihoods as social workers, postal workers, police officers, church pastors, short order cooks, imams, and EMTs, physicians, homeless, attorneys, school students, homemakers, presidents of businesses, colleges, universities, and non-profits, terrorizing people who live with and love black people and all other groups of people who are regularly targeted means that we will think twice and three times before how and when we not only speak up and out, but whether we even dare to leave our homes. That’s the point.
So whenever we do participate, whenever we speak up, share our stories, weep in public, yell, curse, pound the table or the ground, insist on our humanity, this is, whether it feels like it or not, an invitation to everyone and anyone who does not identify with the pain of the moment to do so. It is an invitation both for empathy and even more for sharing in mutual responsibility to commit to the struggle. And what is the struggle? It’s not easy—it’s to understand structural inequality, institutional and interpersonal racism, to appreciate how misogyny, patriarchy, heterosexism, agism (against the young and the old), Islamophobia, Antisemitism, xenophobia and ableism warp and curtail and undo people’s lives. But you need not do all of the studying and talking and reading to commit to the struggle.
Each of us can commit by assuming the best in each other; we can react skeptically to prejudice and stereotypes; we act with generosity and kindness, and we can assume there is always more to history than what we’ve been taught; we can make true friends with people who have very different lives than we do and listen deeply as their stories emerge. If we find ourselves in positions of influence—whether that’s a family or a Department, a township council, a college or a legislature, a Scout Troop or a classroom—we can help those within earshot to understand that these are not the problems of any one group, though particular groups have suffered terrific trauma because of them. These problems are so profound because, ongoing and serious, they are the cornerstones of our society and our nation. This is our problem, our challenge. Committing to the struggle is what has always led to those things that are great in this country.
And if you have not heard the names of these fellow Americans—George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and Ahmaud Arbery—look them up, talk about them with your friends and family. Think together with me and with each other about how we meet our common, difficult challenge. I’m bone-tired, maybe you can run this lap.
Serving Our Hungry Neighbors
Providence Meeting has been assisting our neighbors in Upper Darby by providing food for over thirty years. Our meeting is now a part of a larger religious community providing meals for residents and others at the Life Center of Delaware County. 10 months a year, volunteers from our meeting prepare and serve meals. Many times we have served over 200 meals.
CoVid-19 has changed conditions, and the staff requests that we send food in bags - like a bagged lunch - rather than entering and serving dinner in the shelter. The next time we are scheduled to provide food is May 23.
Current Support Needed:
We could use the following items for packing in a dinner ‘bag:’ breakfast bars or protein bars for 50 people; water in bottles (sorry!) for 50; and packages of peanut butter crackers. On May 23rd, we will make the sandwiches, and put together the bags. If you let us know that you could deliver a bag of 50 oranges or 50 bananas to the meetinghouse closer to our serving date, we would pick them up and include them. Small bottles of hand sanitizer or hygiene items (little bottles of shampoo, soap, lotion, e.g.), would also be most welcome. Contact Lynn and Bill Oberfield at email@example.com or at 610-358-9024.
Postponed Due to CoVid-19 TBA
Join us for lunch and a panel discussion about the latest happenings in jail reform in Delaware County. Updates will include a status report on deprivatization of George W. Hill Correctional Facility, improvements to jail operations, Delaware County's new Jail Oversight Board, and plans for the future.
Speaker Panel includes:
Kevin Madden, Delaware County Council
Jonathan Abdur-Rahim King, Jail Oversight Board
Bob Cicchinelli, Coalition for Prison Reform
Attendees will learn how they can help support local jail reform.
This event includes lunch and is free of charge. Donations are welcome. Parking is available on Meeting property in the front and rear of the building.