It is hard to know where things began when we are already in the middle of it all. This is especially so as we suffer through today’s difficult, complicated and partially obfuscated time.
Perhaps the beginning occurred in 1865 when the American Civil War was officially declared ended, but continued to seethe in less organized ways. Maybe the declaration by the American government in the 1950’s that Italians, Irish and Jewish people were now suddenly and irrevocably considered to be White is part of it. Perhaps some more seeds were planted during the presidency of Ronald Reagan or carefully cultivated as a backlash to the first presidency of a Black man, Barack Obama.
The causes of and connections to the current multiple crises are only partially visible and inexorably intertwined. We now live in a time in the history of humanity that will be studied for decades and even centuries to come by scholars in various disciplines, provided, of course, that the human species survives and that we continue to think and analyze our own lived experiences. Sadly, even that future is in doubt today.
Today we live suspended in the moment between the complicated beginnings and the as yet unknown endings. Many hopefully look to the November elections to turn the tide. To a vaccine to allow us to meet each other again. And to a renewed push for racial and social justice to reintroduce ethics and morality into American life. Others fight for inequality and injustice in the name of going back to the beginning instead of ahead to some sort of future. They invoke a White supremacy of our founding fathers, built right in to the founding principles of this nation.
There are many forces at work, pulling all of us the pressure in their own directions. I hesitate to predict even the near future, but I feel almost compelled to do so by these invisible forces. I have a prediction about November and the months that follow, an awful prediction that must be said out loud. We are facing the culminating battle in the current iteration of the American Civil War of the early 21st century. Expect violence, expect gun shots and bomb explosions, expect what we know as traditional open warfare. Expect more public performances as we are contained and confined by our screens into a cheering or jeering audience.
There was a time when I was certain of everything. Facts were facts and I knew what identified me. Now I am told that not only are politics a performance, but so are our own small lives. The very fact that I am a woman is no longer a fact at all, but a decision, a feeling that anyone can claim. The purported whiteness of my skin, previously a decision, a categorization in the American racial hierarchy, is now an immutable fact that determines my ability to cross the street or sleep in my own bed without being shot in the back.
In my early and innocent days, I wanted to experience everything as soon as it was possible. However, it was still too soon. I, nevertheless, pressed my little nose against every pane of glass that I encountered from the alluring windows of Christmas decorations on Fifth Avenue to the theaters of Broadway to the homes where I suspected that love dwelled.
But girls and women were not permitted to enter alone. Black people went to separate schools. Native Americans were said to have been wiped out heroically and Asians were still considered in the headlines as The Yellow Peril. In school we sang “Negro” spirituals about the happy “darkies.” That was the America of my childhood. At the time, it was just ordinary life and not bias or discrimination.
Yet I was born to rebel, to fight my way in from each window to the front door. I did not want to live with my nose pressed against the glass of life. And I would discover that I was not alone. Many of us wanted to open that door and walk in. And we did, but…
Today we want to open the door in the opposite direction, to walk out safely, to inhale without flirting with death, to walk each of us in our own skin without danger of another kind of death. Instead many of us are imprisoned indoors as life of a sort goes on outside.
Climate change proceeds unchallenged and unchanged. Nature rebels and sends us ever more violent conditions, including massive fires, raging storms and increasingly stronger earthquakes. The air in California, from where I write, is filled with smoke and ash. It is also the medium of transport for a deadly virus. Our very breath declares each of us a danger to all the others. We inhale smoke and ash, we exhale virus and illness. Some of us shoot others in the street in the name of an ancient belief in the right to superiority.
An election that may well be the final American election will occur in November. How much longer can we all, trapped indoors, try to protect ourselves from fire and disease, as well as against terror and a growing civil war? I do not know. Nobody knows.
Today my nose is again pressed against the window, but this time from the inside looking out, confused and wistful. Maybe it’s just me, now watching life on screens and through window panes. I have finally become an insider; we all have, but not in the ways we had hoped. We hold our collective breath, frightened of what may come and trapped in this airless moment in between.