I was talking to a friend yesterday about people – mostly, it seems, those safely removed from the new regime of curfews and suspended bus service and arbitrary check points being imposed at this very moment in Baltimore – posting on social media about how their hearts are “breaking” for Baltimore. My friend leaned dismissive. “Where were their breaking hearts?” he asked, “when the jobs were leaving, when the schools were being privatized, when incarceration rates for Black folks soared? Why didn’t their hearts break before, when the police were giving ‘rough rides’ to injured people, when young children were learning to fear the police?”
I mostly agreed with him. But later, I thought about it some more. Throughout my work day I had struggled, thinking about Baltimore. My mind kept flashing to Freddie Gray making eye contact with that cop, and then the videos of his visible agony as he was dragged to the ambulance. I thought about so many people in the streets protesting peacefully but grieving and angry, and then the cops and the National Guard being called in to keep order. I It felt more like my stomach than my heart aching. But those two organs are pretty close together. I knew what those people were posting about.
Last year I heard Reverend Willie Briscoe of Milwaukee Inner City Congregations United for Hope (MICAH) speak at Congregation Sinai. He spoke of the pain people can feel for the suffering of others. Then he asked the congregation to think about the things that pain them in the world. He explained that pain was God talking, asking you to act.
I am not much of a believer in God. But Reverend Briscoe’s explanation seems to me like a good way of thinking about soul.
Souls are different than hearts: more ephemeral, less commodified, harder to find on a t-shirt. And, according to Reverend Briscoe, they require action.
I live far away from Baltimore, but, like most of us, I inhabit a city where young people of color face a disproportionate chance of being harassed or injured or even killed by the forces of law. Purposive federal and state policies fostering privatization of the public school system have led to declining access to education, for students of color in particular. In a nation where incarceration rates of Black and Brown people have soared in the past twenty years, my state incarcerates the highest proportion of African Americans in the nation.
None of these things take place by accident. Segregation does not happen naturally. Inequality is created by power and policy.
The soul craves action. Fortunately, there is lots of work to be done.