November 9th: An Apology Letter to my Students

November 9th, 2016

Dear Ladies and Gentlemen,

It is 3:30AM, officially November 9th, and I am writing you a letter because I owe you an apology.

While I planned to give you a talk today regardless of how last night turned out, I submit that I will have to file away my speech on women’s rights, perseverance, progress, and glass ceilings, in favor of one that, arrogantly, I had not even begun to think of drafting yet.

The first thing I want you to do is this: stop. Take in this moment. Remember where you are. Remember how you feel. History does not always arrive polished at our doorstep, and it important to recognize those instances, because how we react to them will shape the people that we are.

The second thing I want you to do is this: stop. Heads up. Straighten your shoulders. Look me in the eye. And keep your eyes forward. Fights are not won with our eyes down.

You will likely hear one question, over and over, asked by the adults you find yourselves with regularly: teachers, administrators, parents, family, and the faces on the news: how did we get here? It is important to understand one thing when you hear this question. When people ask this, they are not literally asking about the ways and means that we arrived, here, on November 9th. They are not ignorant to our racist, sexist, homophobic, and xenophobic history as a country, nor are they ignorant to why someone who endorses these ideals was elected to our country’s highest office. Do not assign benefit of the doubt. Adults know better.

When people ask how we got here, they are really asking one thing: why did we get here?  For what reason do we deserve this? The answer is that you don’t deserve this. The answer is that the adults in the room failed you.

Last night left me questioning much of what I thought to be true about our country, the people that inhabit it, and the direction that it was headed in. While our country is no stranger to the violence that has occupied and shaped its essence from its inception and creation by shackled Africans, while it is no stranger to the triumph of the white man, the defeat of the minority, the tears of the natives, and the cries of the unheard, you were all failed in a way that is bigger than we are currently able to fathom.

In the days, weeks, and months to come, we will all, at one point or another, fall into the habit of pointing fingers at who or what is to blame. Do not fall into this trap. If your eyes are open, you understand that our country was and stays built on the backs of the broken. Last night was no different. Do not short yourself credit for understanding the way that this all works.

The automatic response to any feeling of powerlessness is the visceral grasp for any power that we may be able to find. Pointing fingers is a lame attempt to take control of a situation over which you have none. Pointing fingers does not change outcomes, and we must not waste what power we have on obsessing over the faults of people that we have not met. Doing so will only serve to distract us from the task at hand.

Pointing fingers breeds a hatred for anything that makes us think: about ourselves, our power, and the ways that we are able to change our circumstances. It also breeds an affinity for distancing ourselves from the gritty realities of life that you have come to understand so intimately.

Pointing fingers intentionally creates distance between you and your fellow man. Resist this distance, for no hearts were ever changed that were not touched. Resist also the temptation to give up faith, for fear of disappointment. It is all too true that low expectations know no hurt.

But you have taught me better than that.

You have taught me to love. You have taught me to fight. You have taught me to be and stay humble. You have taught me that there is always tomorrow. You have taught me that vulnerability will always win, as will love. It may not always look pretty, but do not forget: love will still always win out over hate.

And we cannot love with our fingers pointed.

Everything has changed overnight, but nothing has changed. All of these things are still true.

I am only sorry that we could not show you that they are.

With love,

Ms. Free

 

Image courtesy of Phil Hill, Flickr Creative Commons

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