"What you are witnessing in Minnesota is something that's been a long time coming. I can't tell you how many governors I've sat down with, how many mayors we've sat down with, and we've warned them that if you keep murdering black people, the city will burn. We have stopped the city from burning numerous times and we are not responsible for it burning now," said Leslie Redmond, the President of the NAACP in Minneapolis.
A New York Times reporter interviewed a young man in Seattle, as protests swelled in the downtown area. He identified himself as a performing artist who lives in LA, but is originally from Seattle. When asked, "What brought you out here today?" He said, "I just wanna stand up for myself, and for all the people that are being murdered and killed, and...I wanna make a change. And...and I just...I just, I don't wanna die." He then said he feels very emotional seeing all the people showing up to do the right thing, to protest, and also feels the internal conflict of seeing people stealing and taken advantage of vulnerable retail storefronts. "It makes sense to be angry," he said, "and to want to destroy things and take things...that's all that's ever been happening with any people of color. Our land, our homes, our livelihoods have been taken from us. But looting is not gonna do anything for us. It's just gonna give people of color a bad name. it's not what we're here for."
I used to teach at Justin Siena High School here in the Napa Valley. Among other things, I taught a leadership and social justice class to juniors. Because we were discussing the dignity of every human person, I made them watch Ava DuVernay's documentary "13th" (among other things!) and have open discussions about race and class in our American past and present.
During one class period, we explored the potential and limitations of anger. I showed them an extended clip of a 2016 conversation between the comedian Dave Chapelle and the writer and activist Maya Angelou. When Dave asked her, "...8 or 9 assassinations, what does that do to a generation? I imagine I'd still be angry." She said,
"Ohhh...if you're not angry, you're either a stone or you're too sick to be angry. You should be angry. You must not be bitter...Bitterness is like cancer. It eats upon the host. It doesn't do anything to the object of its displeasure. So use that anger, yes. You write it. You paint it. You dance it. You march it. You vote it. You do everything about it. You talk it. Never stop talking it."
Recently, some of my former students reached out for help in crafting a letter to the administration of their old high school, asking for a more powerful voice on behalf of students of color. I said, "Remember the difference between anger and bitterness. Anger you can use...bitterness will destroy you. Anger comes because you want to love, you want to live! If you love you can never be indifferent and anger is what love denied can look like. Do not let it become the acid of resentment, bitterness, deceit. You guys are the light in the darkness. You were then as high school students, and you are now."
There is a tension between symbolism and force, between protest and chaos...just as there is a very greasy slide between anger and bitterness. On Sunday night, May 31, I witnessed teens in Napa gather to protest, to remember, to speak. I watched the Napa Police force support their right to gather and put their energy into keeping these kids and our city safe. My dear young Americans! Sing it! Push it! Don't let it go. Do what Maya tells you: never stop talking it.