So these days, the soapbox in the park (Hyde Park for the lucky few) has been replaced with the platforms provided by social media. Virtually anyone can become a talking head. Not a bad thing, I would say, as I’m standing on one right now. Plus there are pressures, both internal and external, that push us to take stands on the plethora of issues that face us, regardless of whether we have had the time or the information to formulate a thoughtful position. After all, who among us has not heard that silence is complicity?
Sometimes it feels as though those issues are coming so fast that it is difficult, if not impossible, to take that time or to gather that information. Don’t bother, for heaven’s sake, just go with your feelings. After all, Trump goes with his gut a good deal of the time, and what’s good enough for him should be good enough for the rest of us. Or so the thinking goes. Or rather, so the feeling goes.
Anyone who ever got lost in the age before GPS knows that getting to where you’re going meant figuring out how you got to where you were. Driving the pine (or piney, as we say) woods of east Texas without losing your way meant having committed to memory the location of every small town in relation to each other, plus the overlay of highways and farm to market roads that connected them. Daddy had this down pat, but I certainly didn’t.
Folks like me had to take that big old map from the glove box and spread it out on the passenger seat. Longer stretches on U. S. highways were pretty easy, but missing a turnoff when one was 30 miles from a town with more than one traffic light (and that one just flashing yellow) could be rather disconcerting.
Years ago, I was driving to Opelousas, Louisiana, taking the scenic route, with about a 20 mile stretch on US 69 out of Lufkin before switching to a smaller state highway near Zavalla. I must have been doing a duet in the car with Patsy Cline or Aretha Franklin (could it have been Barbara Mandrell?) when I missed that turn.
Just a few miles later, I had that funny feeling that something was just not right, and I asked myself, “Where does this highway go to?” Soon enough, a sign answered that I was headed for Woodville. Turning the music down and pulling over, a review of the map confirmed that Jasper should be next, not Woodville. So I turned the car around and corrected my path. Once I knew that I was on the right road for Jasper, the music got turned up again. Knowing something isn’t right, after all, isn’t the same thing as fixing it, and keeping it fixed (there was another highway change in Jasper coming up) is something else again.
I woke up on the wrong road, but being “woke” wasn’t enough. The slang use of “woke” grinds the grammar alarm in my ear, and I suspect that it’s decidedly past its sell-by date by the time old white guys are using it. But my real issue with the term is it so easily allows some white people to be “woke” just by subscribing to a mindset that values black lives. Black lives matter, if you will.
That’s a bit lazy, don’t you think? In that context, pre-“woke” implies the white person in question was asleep or half-awake at best while proceeding through life getting the car and the house or whatever that person’s goals might be. Shouldn’t being “woke” include looking at one’s own white life through a new lens? That “how did I get here” question is certainly important, and the answer can be scary and dangerous.
A comment on a post about race that I saw recently really caught my attention. It simply said, “This world, nor America, will ever be as it once was.” It wasn’t clear whether he was agreeing or disagreeing with the other things being said on that thread or if he thought this was a good thing or a bad thing. If those words are said by a forward thinking person espousing that we will not go back to the way we were, the message is hopeful to downright defiant. Coming from the mouth of a person looking backward to a better time, the words are hopeless to downright defeatist.
You know me, I don’t like binary choices. If you ask me whether I want fish or chicken, I’m going to answer beef enchiladas. Strangely enough, I can find something optimistic in both of those line readings. But the cynic in me lops off the first three words, just to keep it local, and comes up with “America will ever be as it once was.” When we are asking the same questions that were raised 50 years ago in some cases, is it all the same as it ever was? And do some folks think things should be the same as it never was?
With long standing racial injustice, the new crisis of COVID-19, and a highly consequential presidential campaign all heaped on America’s plate, we’re swimming in deep water now. If it really is deeper than most of us can recall, it is a once in a lifetime situation, and the water beneath us better be flowing underground.