The day it was announced that a grand jury chose not to indict Darren Wilson in the fatal shooting of Michael Brown, No Justice by Smith & Mighty popped into my head and played on repeat.
H and I were sitting on the big couch that night, him having milk and me singing, “No justice no peace if equal rights and justice is what you seek / No justice no peace the power to the people they must be released / The reason why our lives they are so rough / Because the system is unjust / And the reason why the system is unjust / Because it’s not made for us.”
He popped up and said, “System is made for us.”
I held my inhalation for a beat longer than usual.
H is two and a half years old. He is studying opposites. If I say something in the positive, he turns it to the negative. If I say something in the negative, he turns it to the positive. It is developmentally appropriate behavior, a way for him to play with words and understand how to change the meaning of a statement, a way for him to test and try on the power of words and feel out their limits.
I say that the system is unjust, because it’s not made for us. He takes it and tinkers, giving back to me that the system is made for us.
It caught my breath, because it felt like he was speaking a deep truth. And he was, he was saying something true, but it was word play and exploration, not an intentional commentary on the inequities in our judicial system. He is not yet aware of the legacy of racism in this country he inherited at birth. He doesn’t yet know how deep the roots of racism run and how difficult they have been to pull from our collective consciousness. He can’t yet see that the 50 years that have passed since the Civil Rights Act of 1964 are a drop in the bucket of time compared to the preceding 344 years of this country’s domination and subjugation of Native Americans, blacks, and women, just a few of the groups that historically have been downtrodden and oppressed; how hard it is for those 50 years to fight against the slow, lumbering force that is the centuries of European imperialism and colonialism that preceded the rise of America’s political and social dominance on the world stage.
H doesn’t know any of this yet, but he soon will. I am not naive enough to believe that this country will have its issues with race sorted and healed before he becomes aware of them. I am hopeful, however, that he and his generation can be more compassionate, more tolerant, and more peaceful in how they treat one another, no matter the differences that appear to divide them. The differences, after all, are not so great that we cannot find love and peace in our hearts for our neighbors. We are all of us connected. Each of us matters. I am not free until you are. No justice, no peace.
Yes, sweet pea, the system was made for us, and I’m here and you’re here to help transform it into a system that delivers justice for all of us. Let us practice kindness and compassion toward ourselves and others and not be afraid to face straight on the racism that exists, both overt and subtle, in ourselves and others. Racism in any form leaves no one with their dignity intact. Let us not be paralyzed by not knowing the answers at the outset, of not knowing how to to mend these wounds before we start. Let us start right where we are, daunting as that may feel, using the resources we have available to us, meager though they may seem. Let us believe that we can make a difference, though we are but two people, even when the world’s hurt seems overwhelming and impossible to stop. Let us do it together, you and me and our friends and neighbors, let us join forces with the people we know and the people we don’t yet know so that no one is traveling this hard road alone, so that the system we build truly is for all of us. Let us start now.