#13 This is America? Ok, let's change it
This is a note about opportunity.
And music videos.
Donald Glover aka Childish Gambino – an extremely talented musician, director, writer, and actor – recently released one of the more profound music videos and pieces of art to emerge in my lifetime.
If you haven’t seen “This is America,” watch it now and then watch it ten more times. Pay attention to the background, and look up analyses that point out what you may have missed.
Recognize that you and I both were likely distracted by the cool dancing before we allowed ourselves to really focus on the more disturbing and challenging aspects of the video. And I think that’s what we do often when it comes to social change; we grasp onto what’s most accessible, what’s in front of us, and roll with that without also addressing what may be a bit more difficult to grapple with the background.
We post #BlackLivesMatter and #MeToo and #ISupportDACA on social media but fail to speak up when it’s mostly white men talking in meetings or receiving promotions.
We run businesses and nonprofits dedicated to social justice but show up in clothing made in exploitive labor conditions. We have our eyes on the 2018 midterms and post eighteen times a month about how awful Trump is but remain relatively uninformed about the down ballot candidates in primaries occurring right now in across our nation.
And I say “we” here because I am 100% in on all of this (but trying to be more self aware and action-focused). Whether we are registered as Democrats or Republicans or something else, being socially liberal or in some way dedicated to social justice has, for a long time, not only been something many of us intellectually and morally believe in, but it’s also been cool. It’s been trendy. I think social media has exacerbated that; along with showing off our outfits of the day and cute puppy pictures we’re showcasing our signs at the women’s marches and showing up to water coolers at 9am with a fully prepared opinion about Kanye which we will proceed to share on Facebook at 9:30.
But we’re not digging deeper. We’re not going about our days recognizing opportunities when we can look beyond our blinders and see not just what’s really going on out there, but what we can do about it.
When I started teaching in 2006, all the talk in the ed reform community was about the achievement gap. Kids from minority and low income communities weren’t achieving the same achievement-based outcomes as wealthier and whiter kids. As a society we have evolved (and I use that word very deliberately here) to reframe this as an opportunity gap; discussing a difference in outcomes is useless if we’re not discussing inequities in opportunities given to various communities that lead to those disparate outcomes.
The more opportunity we have, the more, I think, it’s our responsibility to use it to push forward social justice. Opportunity isn’t just education and it isn’t just wealth; it’s voice, it’s the privilege of leadership, it’s decision-making power, it’s the freedom of choice.
If you are running a business or nonprofit, think about the unique opportunity for social change your team has and whether you’re optimally allocating your resources and talent to push change forward. Are you doing what’s easiest, are you doing what’s coolest and is going to make for the best pictures on your annual report, or are you doing what boldest and most impactful?
And for all of us, as we go about our days, be mindful of whether we’re advocates of social justice primarily when we show up to November elections or when we have our Instagram open in front of us, or if we might also be able to integrate social impact into more and more of our daily lives.
And go watch that video. I’m serious. It’s amazing.