Let’s go back in time, to this past May. By that point it was crystal clear that the country had not miraculously re-opened at Easter (as promised), and the vast majority of our high school graduates would not experience the ceremonial cap and gown procession in a packed auditorium or football field. Some partook in socially distant drive through ceremonies, or staggered and crowdless commencements later on the the summer, but most had some kind of Zoom experience that cemented their year being unlike any other graduating class in modern history. As I reflect on this moment, I’m recalling images of LeBron James serving as host and Barack Obama delivering a resounding keynote at the nation’s first-ever virtual graduation. A few weeks later Michelle Obama did her own thing, spotlighting dozens of students, families, and programs in a marathon of virtual and televised programming.
I’m writing this hours after learning that Donald Trump, the only U.S. President to be impeached twice, has been acquitted on this second go round by the Senate. Today is February 13. January 6 was just over a month ago, and Trump was still in the White House for another two weeks to follow, but we’re treating it like ancient history. (Sort of like how it seems that there’s no COVID in Florida).
This is exactly why I said last year that we can’t just go back to normal. And this is why I’m saying now, we’ve got to keep talking about the challenges in front of us. I’m all for Black History Month (because obviously), but as Amber Ruffin shares, maybe we should spend some more time talking about the roles that White people and White systems have played in creating a nation where, one day we have to scream out “Black Lives Matter” and the next day “patriots” get to parade a confederate flag in the White House, steal Nancy Pelosi’s laptop, and threaten to hang Mike Pence. And kill a police officer.
I appreciate the executive actions Biden has put in motion, and I understand the coalition building sentiment that he’s projecting, but we are living with a centuries-old wound that will never heal with just a new layer of gauze. We have immeasurable structural work and truth-telling to do to deliver on real social justice. President Biden and Vice President Harris will be no-brainers in this year’s virtual commencements. That’s a given. But we’re going to need much more than representation and comfort. We have to keep talking about the America that we want to become, and make radical shifts to be far better than the America that we presently are. Otherwise, as my mentor Howard Stevenson would often say, we’ll be stuck in this desert, thinking it’s really the beach.