Everything has me weepy today on the observation of MLK, Jr.'s birthday, feeling sentimental as an African American historian and a product of the rural South.
Everything. Like, in the midst of re-reading Michelle Alexander's The New Jim Crow (I'm teaching it (again) this Spring), I have (previously) run across Cara's review of the book and, just today, this interview with the author and other scholars bearing the grim subtitle "How a Racist Criminal Justice System Rolled Back the Gains of the Civil Rights Era." This article also centers the book and the school-to-prison-pipeline that acts in some of the same systematic ways as the old system of Jim Crow. As I read them, I am disheartened, overwhelmed, teary-eyed. And I thought, "My God, so far to go!"
Everything. Like the fact that I have never watched The Great Debaters but today caught the last ten minutes of it with my boys. I was struck by the young man at the end who spoke of our duty to resist unjust laws, of the fear and shame with which African Americans lived, of a world in which you could stumble upon a lynch mob and do nothing but hide, hoping to save your own life. As I watched, I felt awe-struck, angry, teary-eyed. And I thought, "My God, how far we've come."
Far enough that I, the granddaughter of domestics and sharecroppers, will get up tomorrow and go to my job as an assistant professor at a public university after making sure my kids are safely off to school, once upon a time little more than a dream for most teenaged black boys whose lives were dictated by agricultural needs.
You know, I've never known for sure if the words to that old song are "My Soul Looks Back in Wonder" or "My Soul Looks Back and Wonders." I don't worry about it much, because either is fitting when I look back over the course of the history of people of African descent in this country. So far we've come. Every once in a while, I do take a moment, reflect, feel gratitude, feel strengthened, realize the resilience that comes from past victories and defeats. This is one of those days.
And then I remember, So far we have to go. And I get back to business.