After Psalm 137
We’re still in Babylon but
We do not weep
Why should we weep?
We have forgotten
How to weep
We’ve sold our harps
And bought ourselves machines
That do our singing for us
And who remembers now
The songs we sang in Zion?
(The rest of the poem is here.)
These words have come back to haunt me repeatedly this past week… the beauty and power of Porter’s poem remind us that not only have we forgotten how to weep, the reasons we were meant to weep, and that we ever sang, we’ve also not really got time for any of the above… History rushes us on, and tomorrow, there will be another reason for outrage, if not for song, as The Globe predicts.
This week, Mitali Perkins’ Twitter comment that “Social media is a shallow container for grief” was poignant and empathetic, though yesterday, I felt like adding “…and, collective memory is a deep colander.” Not only are we failing to assign any real thought to things, in the fast-paced give-and-take of conversation on our Facebook feeds, we aren’t taking the time to fact-check before we state and repeat. I found this to be true this week in myriad comments I heard about school shootings.
The world has grown dangerous, is the usual cant, and I didn’t sign on for this, and We should arm teachers, and the classic, In Free America, they’ll take my guns from out of my cold, dead hands. (Yes, ol’ Charleton’s long dead, but apparently, still armed.) These are comments from smart people, too, but what they’re saying isn’t very intelligent… because school shootings are not, unfortunately, a recent phenomenon of a world gone suddenly, inexplicably crazy.
Because we forget things so fast, having new images and information crammed into our heads all the time, it’s forgivable, in some respects, to think that Columbine’s tragedy in 1999 was the beginning of a new trend in American violence. It was not. Setting aside violence perpetuated as a result of the Reconstruction, and against tribal groups in the American West, there’s a long historical trail of violence against students in schools, some specifically Civil Rights related, others directed by law enforcement for reasons of “public safety.” I remember being in high school when a man blew up his van in Stockton, CA, which was parked by a school, and then, in the ensuing chaos, shot into a playground, killing mostly Hmong kids. That was 1989. There has been so much violence since, and so much violence before 1999, when the most infamous school tragedy happened in Colorado.
We forget. But, history keeps a scorecard, riddled with holes and gunpowder burns.
In 1989 reporters argued that the bitter alcoholic man who killed all of those Cambodian and Vietnamese refugee kids shouldn’t have been able to get access to an AK-47. He’d had depression, and showed signs of mental issues. The Colorado students had posted questionable things on their Facebook. How could this have happened? the community raged. And yet, it did happen, and it has happened again, and again, and again, over, and over, and over…
And, in between, we hang up our harps and post cat videos on our Instagram. Until the next event for collective, ineffectual rage is called for.
And speaking of rage: I’m flattered that people felt so moved by my last blog post on the children’s publishing industry’s sexual harassment outrage/racist indifference that they’ve followed my Twitter and have tried to contact me for comment. To the many more who retweeted and boosted my thoughts, thank you. I’ve watched, as people have taken the “pay attention” that Debbie and Tracey tweeted and further characterized that post as “raging” – albeit beautifully, or as an essay “venting frustrations” albeit “eloquently,” and as “furious” albeit again with the modifier “beautiful.” It is… telling, to me, how even people who are trying to show they’re on your side can mischaracterize thoughts and intentions so easily. The Angry Black Woman trope is ever, ever before us; ever pervasive. Truth is, I was not furious when I wrote that blog post, I was factual. If I, as a black woman, got mad every time there was an injustice, I’d never do anything else. This wasn’t raging, this was Tuesday, and me thinking an issue through, and processing it in written form, as I often do…. This is why I mostly blog and often don’t speak up about things on social media. It’s just too, too easy for even those who appreciate us to misunderstand tone or intent, and for that misunderstanding to be a springboard to some other person’s soapbox. I appreciate so many people reading with and thinking with me – and there’s definitely a time and a use for anger – but I’ll save my rage for when I believe it will tilt the scales toward justice.