In 1955, Massachusetts Sen. John F. Kennedy with the assistance of Ted Sorenson wrote the 1957 Pulitzer Prize-winning book "Profiles in Courage." At the time, many adult readers and students who experienced the book as an educational requirement understood its central theme. The book profiled U.S. senators who defied the opinions of their party, constituents and the American electorate to do what they felt was right, and then suffered severe criticism and a loss in popularity because of their actions.
Courage is not an intentional characteristic for many elected officials. It has been infrequently referenced in current national politics, replaced by cowardice. The spirit of courageousness is also absent in the dribble-down debate positions embraced by many Americans. Fueled by the absurdity of national partisan politics, Americans, regardless of political affiliation, find solace in a partisan divide that extols one party as more herculean than the other. Even informed citizens are perplexed to locate courage in leadership. It is becoming invisible in state and local politics, and eerily absent in the contentious discussions among the country’s citizenship even when a second impeachment process was debated. Has practicality become the rationale for cowardice?
Many Americans continue to be cloaked in a blind faith to a particular person and that person’s self-serving mindset instead of critically thinking through pertinent issues affecting American equity, rule of law, and standing in the global community. In August 1969, legendary musicians Eric Clapton, Steve Winwood and Ginger Baker emboldened the concept of "Blind Faith” in the consciousness of '60s counter-culture folks with their self-titled album. However, the proclivity of Americans to erode collective memory heightened our generational forgetfulness. So, in 2021, “counter-culture” is now a central thematic cohort of those who are bent on dismantling the American tradition of democracy, and who are steeped in totalitarian blindness, the consequence of abject adherence to dictatorial authoritarianism. Invariably, this stance is grounded in deceit and unapologetic lies central and consequential to a particular individual’s unquenchable thirst to maintain power, by any means necessary. "We, the people" was never meant to become “I, the people."
Almost half of Americans have opened their arms to a cult of personality. Ignoring the warnings of the seminal Black funk, jazz, heavy metal rock group Living Colour, whose anthem “Cult of Personality” won the Grammy Award for Best Hard Rock Performance in 1990, American music enthusiasts and audiences applauded that moment and then along with the broader population easily forgot the prophetic messages inherent in that song.
These unsurmountable facts may be hard to comprehend. Unfortunately, all citizens are caught up in perilous times, with possible answers resting in local community understandings and grassroots-initiated change. Social justice activists have to continue to rethink priorities and how their progressive thinking and actions can best serve the ongoing dilemmas plaguing the country and local municipalities.
Believe it or not, America is fermented in inequality and separateness; 2020 cast in stone this undeniable fact. The country is distinctively separated with each side entrenched in its own values, beliefs and political rage deeply enmeshed in decades-old racial/social/cultural norms. More importantly, each divide has specific ideas what America should be and what it is destined to become. There is no unanimity of thought even as there is varied political opinions on all sides. There is a dark, foreboding mindset as some people see a second civil war looming in this country’s future. This thinking is sparked by conspiracy theory advocates, alt-right nationalists, militia members and white supremacists, and rationalized by those few incidences of destruction of property in otherwise peaceful demonstrations. These violent, military-geared treasonous folks proclaim their support for the police, but Black officers in “blue” are reduced to being called “niggers.”
Each hardcore segment of this fractured country is committed to protecting its constitutional sense of American values and righteousness. Centrist Americans must decide whether or not a country built on enslaved Africans, indentured servants, misplaced conceptions of race, class, gender, and strengthened by bona fide patriots who continue to protect the aspirations of the US Constitution, represents the honorable face of America. This image is underpinned by constitutional scholars, grassroots multicultural social justice activists and insightful allies who inspire to form the firewall for ongoing liberty. Or does the country succumb to those who rather brandish firearms and military tactical gear, and purposely create planned seditious insurrections supported by some in national power? While America may protect hoisting flags indicating racial superiority or safeguard heinous speech, Americans may not envision its national character frontally assassinated by overturning the electorate’s will. “Stop the steal?” This is the Sisyphean question and task.
In the midst of a pandemic and impenetrable racial discord, truth dictates that there are unparalleled challenges to the framework of what it means to be American — living in America — and the need to tackle an array of equity challenges. And as we look into that self-reflecting mirror, a decision is made. A decision as to where we place our feet, to stand up, to be planted. In doing so, Americans, regardless of societal differences, decide what can be done to reverse the country’s injurious trajectory while staying drenched in one’s core beliefs.
So, what is the role of social justice adherents in this quagmire? How do the evolving national dynamics define social justice initiatives, especially at the local level?
Tackling such questions requires the recognition that everyone is overtly influenced by national events, even if those episodes are not prevalent in one’s local community. Local attitudes are intractably defined by viewpoints framed on national issues. Community views on policing, racism, health, housing and economic equity or disparities are framed viewpoints that are reactions to national perspectives. While there is a bifurcation of thought stemming from national versus local reaction to most newsworthy events, theft cannot be the solution.
William Berry Jr., of Auburn, is a retired senior-level university administrator with over 33 years of service at various institutions. He currently serves as a consultant on issues centering on equity, inclusion, diversity and retention-oriented customer service while continuing his stance as an activist scholar commenting on a variety of social justice issues. He publishes aaduna, a global, online multicultural literary and visual arts journal, and is current chair of the Auburn-based Harriet Tubman Center for Justice and Peace board. He can be reached at email@example.com.