Today the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the Fair Housing Act could be upheld for desperate impact and I wrote a piece about it for Slate. In sum: it’s a big step forward for ending housing segregation, and at the same time we’ll have a lot more work to do if we want to see long-term economic justice.
Last winter I attended a powerful march for #BlackLivesMatter in Oakland. When I came home I started to write this piece on the need for more intentional compassion in the racial justice movement. While the piece didn’t end up coming out until this past week, I still stand behind the position that we need to explore implicit bias through the lens of compassion and lovingkindness. Many thanks to the Buddhist Peace Fellowship for publishing the piece and uplifting the intersection of Buddhism and social justice!
My Southern black grandmother grew up on a farm in the years before they migrated to San Francisco as part of the Great Migration. I’ve heard her talk about her childhood family life a number of times. Her stories of growing their own food, the backbreaking work of caring for their own livestock, and the necessity of older children taking care of the younger ones always felt so removed from my clean, amenity-rich life growing up in a quiet California suburb.
Her stories have also always felt disconnected in my mind from the permaculture and urban farming movements of today. These sustainable lifestyle choices seemed branded by (often white) liberals in a way to which I sometimes still have a hard time relating. Living in Oakland it’s hard not to see the ways that urban homesteading and urban farming can be tools of gentrification and displacement if not integrated into the full richness of the community fabric.
But my grandmother’s experiences growing up and the modern permaculture movement are not supposed to be separate. While I don’t consider myself a part of the permaculture movement, I know that its participants aim to live off the land in a more sustainable way, particularly when it comes to growing one’s own food. The deep wisdom and reliance on the earth that black folks, indigenous peoples, and many other communities of color have cultivated for centuries is permaculture.
On my way to work there is a stoplight that used to stay green for ten or so seconds after the “stop walking” hand finished blinking. This week something changed, and now the light turns yellow immediately after the hand is done flashing. The first time I went to the intersection after the change I almost walked into the middle of the street on a red light, because I was so used to being on autopilot going through that space.
Since encountering the change I’ve noticed that my quality of attention is quite different at that intersection. I watch. I look more at the cars and the people walking by. I pay attention to the new rhythms of the street. The space feels unfamiliar in a slight, nagging way. I am there in a sense that I most normally am not when encountering that corner.
I say this to point out how we can become so used to the physical and social dimensions of our neighborhoods without even realizing it. What we’re accustomed to goes far beyond the timing of traffic lights. Perhaps we’re used to the homeless men and women hanging out on certain street corners where there’s a liquor shop. Or maybe we’re used to seeing a long row of trees down the sidewalk when we round the corner on our home block. We might be physically passing some of the same people everyday as we move through the dance of our lives.
I don’t know much about the man who died in Baltimore last week. I know my friends’ and allies’ rage. I know their pain. I see it splashed across social media.
Who gets to believe is one of the biggest problems. Who gets to believe in the roots of this epidemic and who gets to turn away or add in skepticism.
Writers are telling us that these deaths are different, reminding us that each black person killed is a unique human being. Let’s always remember that. Let’s never let a black death become just another number.