Monday, November 21, 2005

A LETTER TO MY STUDENTS: ON FORGETTING TO REMEMBER

We remembered them in the early weeks after the disaster by collecting clothes and school supplies, by working in relief centers, by attending seminars and symposia, by writing papers for our various classes, and by befriending the more than fifty students from Xavier and Dillard enrolled in AUC institutions. But almost two months since the disaster and less than a month before they will be evicted from FEMA housing with nowhere to go, we have forgotten to remember the victims of Katrina. We have not screamed rage, and we have but whispered concern.

So much there is about which we should scream: the rising count of deaths in Iraq, not only among our servicemen and servicewomen, but also, in staggering numbers, among Iraqi civilians; the rising cost of health care for our older citizens; the reduction of funds for health care for the "indigent," among them children; the staggering number of women and men without jobs, without medical insurance, without housing; the reduction of support for public schools and for college tuition; and the daily struggles of Katrina victims to find housing, to secure jobs, and to locate children from whom they were disconnected during the storm.

[An Aside, But Not Really: It "would be morally reprehensible," but aborting all Black babies would solve the problem of crime in our nation. This from a former Secretary of Education and weeks after Katrina?]

I do not understand why we have not "stormed the Bastille" and demanded change on various fronts. After all, resistance is not alien to us. Indeed, it is the deep river in which we baptized ourselves as blacks and as women insisting on change.

In other words, we know how to scream--among ourselves and with others who join us, or whom we join, in resistance against injustice. We screamed in the sixties, the seventies, and the eighties. James Baldwin's question is as relevant today as it was four decades ago: "Who wants to be integrated into a burning house?"

Who wants to be successful in a nation that is on the brink of educational, financial, and moral collapse?

When I am feeling anger, helplessness and despair, I am lifted up by your determination to make a difference.
Your generation only appears to be silent. You are not sleeping. Rather, like the protagonist in Ellison's INVISIBLE MAN, you have gone into deliberate hibernation. And when you come out of hibernation, you will change this nation and the world in ways that my generation in the sixties could not have imagined to be a future possibility.

I know you will . . . because you must.

I value you.

Gloria Gayles