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June 1, 2020 | General, Race and Equity,

Resist Numbness by David C. Howse

This post was written as part of a larger series leading up to our fourth Town Hall on Wednesday, June 17th at 12 pm EDT. We encourage our audiences to read all of the posts in the series in preparation for the Town Hall. Information on the Town Hall and the remainder of the series can be found here.

George Floyd was basically my age, and his murder has affected me deeply.  Personally speaking, and perhaps like you, I am outraged. The deaths of Ahmaud Arbery and Breonna Taylor, the racist act in New York’s Central Park and now the murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis – it’s all disgusting and overwhelming; and though I have no words, it is all I want to talk about.

I am unsettled and can’t figure out what productive actions should emanate from the deep rage that’s gurgling in the inner depths of my spirit. And so I thought I would write to you because I thought, as someone who cares about ArtsEmerson, you might want to know that I am hurting. As are many people on our team. And many more in our families and in our audience.

I haven’t had the stomach to watch the video, but I know that many have witnessed the brutal murder laid bare, thanks to the courage of the people who, though unable to stop it, resolved to film it. That scene is one that no human should have to witness, let alone endure. What is clear in that video is that his life – the life of this one black man, George Floyd, his physical body was attacked and killed.    

What we don’t see as clearly in the video is the ripple effect of his murder: the psychological, social and emotional attack on most all black people. That ripple creates waves that will continue to rise long after the protests end. As a black man, with two teenage sons, I live in the wave that results from too many ripples, and sometimes it truly is hard to breathe.

The constant devaluation of the black body affects us in so many negative ways – one of which is to rob us of our sense of self-worth and dignity. I fight against that every day. And in the words of Toni Morrison, “I am not a victim. I refuse to be.”

So why am I saying all of this?

Of course, I appreciate your care and concern, but know that I am not writing for a sympathetic response. I write in hopes that you will keep clamoring for Justice – not specifically for my benefit, but for the benefit of all of us. Words are appreciated, but action is necessary. I am hoping that you will continue to ask yourself, “What’s to be done? And what is mine to do?” The latter question is the more important one.   For me, I am praying that my rage continues to find productive ways to live in the world.

The death of George Floyd is unacceptable. Let’s not get distracted from this truth into a debate about the way the protests have unfolded. And let’s not get wrapped up in any of these incidents as singular. I’ll say the names again and thereby add them to the long, too long, decades-long, centuries-long list of them: Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, George Floyd. Racism is alive and well in all aspects of our lives. Let’s not be numb to the weight of racism on black people and the negative effect it has on all of us. What are you going to do?

In times like these, I tend to look for inspiration, challenge and hope in the artists and art surrounding me. I have always valued the voice of the artist, and I was grateful to hear from Daniel Beaty with the following poem that he wrote on the subject. It resonated with me. Given ArtsEmerson’s stated focus on transforming the city’s violent history around race, it feels right that I share it here. Daniel starts:

“My heart is so full about all that is happening that I wrote this message from our [Black] Ancestors…”

I can’t begin to explain the weight of my emotions; but art, for me, helps to make meaning of the many vicissitudes of life. Art, in all its forms, is the place that I go to be challenged, to be reflective, and to be inspired – especially in moments like these. I am committed to using the arts as a platform for allowing my rage to live productively in the world.

Let’s keep clamoring for a just America. Let’s keep building new ways of being together. Let’s keep reimagining the future where we all belong…

I’ll end here: It is some kind of hell to be black in America. But today, at least, I am fortunate to say that I am still alive.  

P.S. If you haven’t already, you may consider checking in on your other black friends. They may not want to hear from you, but they likely won’t forget that you had the courage to connect.

David C. Howse, Executive Director

To see how this statement came together, visit this blog post.

Marquee photo credit: Chris Faraone, editor-in-chief DigBoston

3 responses to “Resist Numbness by David C. Howse”

  1. Blair Nodelman says:

    Here is the text of the poem performed by Daniel Beaty:
    Dear Future Ancestor
    If I could take all your pain
    Wrap it in my arms
    And toss it into the depth of the Middle Passage
    Where countless tears have filled waters
    Stretching from Africa to these Americas
    I would

    If I could take your rage
    And ball it into a collective fist
    And smash injustice into a thousand pieces of light
    Carving a path for future generations
    I would

    If I could whisper into the soul of every black child
    Confused, trembling in fear:
    You are safe. You are protected
    Your #blacklivesmatter
    I would

    If I could promise every black parent
    That nothing can assassinate the promise
    You birthed into creation
    Your seed will flourish, it must
    I would

    If I could assure every lover that the body you hold
    Is sacred, is the peace of God, is a miracle
    Your courage to love is your heart’s lubrication
    And though you are afraid, now is the time to love more
    I would

    If my spirit could inhabit every body that fears you
    Illuminate their hearts, their minds, their eyes
    To the beauty of your Divinity
    Shine light on the oneness of our shared humanity
    I would

    Because I cannot, please know these words…

    You are the King, the Malcolm
    The Tubman, the Truth,
    The Robeson, The Simone
    The direction and the promise

    You are the feet that march,
    The bodies hosed and arrested
    The songs of freedom sung loud
    The collective action

    You are the architects of freedom
    The late night camp meetings
    The minds that strategize
    A clear, precise, agenda for change

    You are the rage and the pain
    You are the hope and the vision
    Even though your heart is breaking
    You are the salve

    Future Ancestor know yourself
    It is when we are under attack that we must know
    The unlimited power of black soul
    It is time to mobilize and act

    Future Ancestor earn your place
    Amongst the legion of heroes past
    Breathe deep, look inside: we are here
    In your brother, sister’s eyes: we are here

    Future Ancestor,
    Who are you?
    Do you truly know your power?
    Then, what are you going to do?

  2. david rich says:

    Thank you so much for sharing your feelings and this poem. I am at such a loss for ways to move forward now and I know deep down there is no comfort to be found in this moment that I can give you, nor find for myself. I am scared for you. I am scared for your children. I am scared for me. I am scared for my child. I am scared for our future ancestors of all colors but especially black. Even deeply wounded by this moment I know you will not give in or give up. I will not either. For now I will be listening for what is best to do, and while both listening and following through on whatever things I can do, I will also continue to pursue the theatrical art I’ve promised to create as an antidote to racism. All this, in between the moments of crying for George Floyd, and the atrocities over 400 years that added up to his murder, and for our now and our future.

  3. globaltel says:

    Thank you for your words. Absolutely let’s MOVE FORWARD!

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