The revolution isn’t going to stitch itself. — May 2017
Sometime in Nov 2016, I dunno, around the 9th or so there was a sea-change for many Americans–at least half of the voters–who’d not had to own up to the imperfections of their nation, if they were even aware of them before. [And herein this is the right time to mention privilege, rather the panracial privilege to be blind to hatred and injustice towards others that allows for outcomes like what happened in the US presidential election of 2016. Full disclosure: I, myself, have some portions of this privilege due to my socio-economic and educational status, though I choose not to be blind and inactive at all times.] Some characterize this moment as a social awakening, that is folks are collectively getting woke, though I judge much of the learning so far to be short-sighted and shallow.
Just finished this quilt five days ago and already kinda regret the title. This writing is a rumination on what I thought I meant.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m heartened to see an uptick in activism among those who aren’t the usual suspects. But I don’t allow myself to hope that self-interested action will ever convert to on-going and transcendent social engagement. The day-to-day renewed outrage generated by governmental actions and scandal revelations will lead to fatigue and retreating into survival mode will result in a return to insular worldviews and conservation of energy to protect those who are close. It’s justifiable self-preservation, of course, and an instinct that is difficult to fight.
In this swirl of my own judgment and personal terror, I needed a meditative project in which to embed my feelings and as a way to zone out from the immediate flurries of dread enough to contemplate the bigger picture. You can tell that I haven’t come to any complete or tidy conclusions, nor will I presume to offer any thoughts on what one ought to do differently. Although I reiterate a call for compassion. Without intending to invoke Dionne Warwick, it seems to me that–along with the desperate need for a lotta resistance and uprising–the world is suffering from a deficit of love and human kindness.
Particularly as frustration and anger mount, one must be mindful to maintain one’s humanity and that of everyone else.
Of course, it’s complicated.
This project has traveled across the country, roosting in its own carry-on bag for months and emerging for construction on planes, in airports (mainly in the ATL), and in hotels. Public acts of making are political acts no matter the subject of the work, drawing audiences that sometimes bring conversations that are intimate, challenging, and heartwarming. I count the myriad strangers who approached me as co-creators in a way since I can identify the more touching moments in my stitches and cuts. You know, the flow was disturbed as I let people into my little world. It was a lovely contrast to the solitary pseudo-monastic environment in which I usually work, which made me further wonder about my intended message.
And not too many of my visitors took in the words slowly unveiling in my lap. Some revealed their political leanings, strangely self-indulgently assuming everyone agrees with them, and yet my silence in reply steered them back to telling me about their crafty cousin as they continued to reach out to find ways to connect. These were not moments for arguments nor for cynical agreements, I didn’t think; I wanted to savor the chance to learn more about them—to try to see their humanity.
On Nov 9, 2016 I retreated into literature for comfort. Rereading this Maya Angelou poem and James Baldwin’s The Fire Next Time was at once empowering and devastating. Indeed, we have come a long way and yet we have so far to go to reach any semblance of equality. Recent documentary I Am Not Your Negro (trailer) uses archival video of Baldwin, MLK, and Malcolm X among others to trace bright lines from the landing of Plymouth Rock on us (to paraphrase) on through to the movement today for civil rights. Again, empowering and devastating.
I hang on Baldwin’s every word in his book and in the documentary, glorying in his eloquence and sympathizing with his exhaustion. In scene after scene of the film, he breaks it all down for his interviewers and interlocutors. [Set up in a “debate” with a (old white male) Yale philosophy professor who denies that race is a thing to take into account, he lets out a deep sigh and proceeds to school him. There’s a crooked clipped line in this quilt just from my delight in that moment in the film.]
And now looking all up in the grill of this quilt, I may have finally gotten around to my point. Get woke is not just about this moment in time in the US and the recent incitement, but rather it is about the broad and deep learning we should do to understand the roots of the marginalization of our fellow countrypeople. This would increase our empathy and compassion so that we may choose also to fight for their rights before, while, and after we fight for our own.