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Seeking a National Introspection

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This essay is adapted from Mr. Chapman’s January 7, 2021 message to Park School colleagues.

Images of Wednesday’s events in Washington D.C. are inescapable in our collective minds. For me, as I reflect on that night, I realize that once my professional obligations were met, and I was able to check in with friends and family, I could no longer avoid the reality of what happened, or what it meant to me personally, not just professionally. As I was left alone with my own thoughts, worries and fears about what we saw last night, I was left with the questions that have plagued many of us in this nation as of late. How do I protect my family from the hate and anger they are seeing on TV? How DO I discuss this with my child? How do I express the myriad of emotions that accompany what we saw yesterday?

Chief among those emotions is sadness. Sadness compounded because a part of me was actually not surprised by what I saw. There is a genetic memory that was triggered yesterday as I saw images of nooses and Confederate flags on the steps of our Capitol. Images of people breaking into the building and Senate chambers. The violence we observed in the heart of our democracy was on a scale that many of us have not seen in our lifetime.

When I see how the reaction to this protest differs from the reaction to the protests this summer, I cannot help but ask more questions about what we are teaching our children. They watch what we do, not what we say, especially about justice. I hope to see us do better as a nation, if not for us then, for them.

I often look for resources to help process my thoughts in uncertain times and I applaud the members of our community who have already shared resources with the larger community with our students in mind. I will add a suggestion for the adults in our community, a recent text that I find myself reaching back to in the last 24 hours.

Isabel Wilkerson’s book, Caste: The Origins of Our Discontents, is a text that I recommend as a way to understand how we as a nation have arrived at this tempestuous point in history. I have been a fan of Wilkerson’s work since her history of the Great Migration, The Warmth of Other Suns. However, this recent text has given me words to articulate the questions in my brain and even some answers for my heart, a road map for introspection that is needed for how we move forward using both our heads and our hearts.

We are responsible for our own ignorance or, with time and openhearted enlightenment, our own wisdom.”
Isabel Wilkerson,
Caste: The Origins of Our Discontents

“Choose not to look, however, at your own peril. The owner of an old house knows that whatever you are ignoring will never go away. Whatever is lurking will fester whether you choose to look or not. Ignorance is no protection from the consequences of inaction. Whatever you are wishing away will gnaw at you until you gather the courage to face what you would rather not see.” ― Isabel Wilkerson, Caste: The Origins of Our Discontents

Isabel Wilkerson’s words speak to me about the need to understand the shared narratives that make up the mosaic of our nation today. To move forward, we will need to rebuke the violence, hate, and destruction we saw this week. 

I call on us all to look to do some national introspection to what led us to these events and to see how those images may affect each of us in our community in different ways. For our students’ sake, we must learn to hear, connect and seek to understand all of the voices that make up our community, school, and country.