Elizabeth Arlen and I (Claire Attkisson) often collaborate on our blog pieces, however, given the deeply personal feelings and life experiences around racism we thought it would be interesting to give our readers both of our perspectives on justice.
Have you seen ‘The Lion King’? James Earl Jones (who would sound noble asking for a lap dance) was the voice of King Mufasa, and during an early on-heart-to-heart with Simba, he explained to his smug cub, “Yes, we eat the antelope but when we die our bodies return to the ground that grows the grass the antelope eat. So, you see, we are all connected.” No wonder he was elected. From his platform on Pride Rock, Mufasa raised up Simba, the future king to cheers and bows for the symbol of a common purpose, an immortal design of nature: giraffe, elephant, flamingoes and those creepy bug eyed, long tailed creatures (you see miniatures on girls’ back packs) celebrated their animal Kingdom.
Meanwhile, audiences, seated years ago in the Durango or LA or Maine, nestled briefly into a peaceful moment with the whimsical thought that all was right in the world and each one of us is enough so long as there was popcorn. A family being a family was valid enough to exist. The circle of life. We all belong just because. But what if there were a baby crying in the back? And people kept looking back and grimacing while the parents seemed from another planet in their tolerance (the “thick skin” we boast about is tissue paper compared to what you develop as parents without sitters). No audience member would actually kill the baby or parents but you can bet there was serious seething and victimhood in the air ad fights on the way home. Life was unfair. Again.
We admire and even aspire to be Mufasa, but we understand the snarling Scar. Life is unfair. Life makes us damn angry. Instead of getting my college scholarship I have to stay home and raise my baby brother; the little local bookstore that made the city feel friendly is being gobbled up by Barnes and Noble. Our boss overlooks us for a promotion because she is getting a divorce and you are also a man who likes jazz and cats; you can’t get a job until you have job experience; your father still hasn’t come back and it has been months. Life is like Max wandering into the in land of Wild Things’ and being told, “I am going to eat you up.” The people ranking in the money think, ‘I don’t need to gather around a watering hole with my brand new $400 k. West Yeezy sneakers.” The poor think, ‘I am broke and live in the subway and I’m not leaving my spot because some millionaire wacko is singing a bunch of ‘We are the world’ bullshit.’
People are angry. Deservedly and not. People steal and shriek and die because we are Mufasa and we are also Scar, ready to murder his brother he decided he didn’t deserve to live; because his own life was garbage and he wasn’t going to suffer while this big body of nothing was free as can be. That knee on George Floyd’s neck were Scar’ clawing into Mufasa’s paws even as he begged “Brother” save me.
The circle of life still exists. Remember it; and we are also Mufasa. What about this, a story about a bunch of brilliant black boys and girls, who might have ended up in gangs or dead, if not for this man, Jamal Joseph, who used to be a black panther and became a play-write in prison; and his hand being clasped by a brilliant hopeful woman playwright steeped in hope and grit and beliefs; and together with years of work and dreams (and yes, money donated) they created ‘City Kids’ in New York City; the talent and joy and poetry and magic I saw there is the reason for hope and faith; Jamal Joseph and Alice Arlen absolutely changed these young lives. They were lions with no need for ego or fighting; they protected their pride and revealed in them such talent that they ended up performing a movie soundtrack at the Oscars. Alice, (my stepmother and mother of my heart), believed in the magic circles of life where no one was different or better than anyone else but each was necessary to make this human race work, She died not such a long time ago but I know her work and love extends in ripples throughout the families and communities who were washed over by her ocean of love. She was human and knew at the right times that she was a lion.
We Sapiens, are technically the Alpha of the Animal kingdom. But we forget and fight like frenzied hyenas or even chipmunks. Maybe it’s because for thousands of years Sapiens were locked in the middle rung of the food chain–needy, paranoid and afraid of the dark because, wow, a lot of predators wanted to eat us!– and then ShaZAM, someone lit a match and with fire and a bit of brainstorming, Sapiens were suddenly hurled, with a toothbrush and a full head of panic, to the top, the throne. But Enough. Enough time has passed to adjust. We must claim our rightful ownership and responsibility and stop being afraid of the dark—the unknown. “The only thing to fear is fear itself.” FDR must remind us of this over and over again. Reality is our friend. It is the truth and the only place of traction. Our reality is complex. We are wise, compassionate, heroic, and we are aggressive and ugly. We cannot be like Scar now and want the power but no responsibility of leadership. We Sapiens have a great responsibility and connection to this planet. To the leaves rustling in the forest, the rumble of the subway train; the oceans we fly over. We may feel estranged in our lifestyles, but our responsibility extends everywhere,
Weeks ago, the Mayor of Minneapolis asked the vice president of the Public Health commission. She was tall, dark, shining skin, a few beaded dread locks hanging down along with her a dangling from one ear. Her expression was almost blank exhaustion but for her bright eyes. She leaned down to the mike, paused and in a voice unsentimental and undressed, sang, “Amazing Grace, how sweet the sound, that saved a wretch like me…” She was raw and hurting, and resolute as she spoke of the knee on George’s throat being a knee on all of our throats. This was enough. This would not stand. Change is breaking down the doors.She was spoke to the lion heart within us. She called for people to address the larger issue of systemic racism and to take the higher ground, the truth that not all police officers are racist; not all protestors are violent; and that Black Lives Matter. Above all, when she sang “Amazing Grace” she inspired even more: May Black lives be impossible to ignore
Conditions that spread from Minneapolis, along with Covid 19, which is not on sabbatical, are scary and we each must be responsible. The looting, burning and violence can be easily misappropriated as a reason for a “law and order” response; however, any human being when pushed to the brink will resort to explosive anger and violence as a defensive, life affirming stance. And, while I would love for these protests to all be non-violent and to rise above it (many have been in fact), violence has historically been a catalyst for social change. I’m not condoning the violence and looting; I do relate, as a white woman (with my own discriminatory threats), to why it happens and its power to draw attention to the cause when nothing else does.
Nahala finds Simba and tells him, “Ask not what the Pride Lands can do for you but what you can do for your Pride Lands.” Remember from blogs before, we are not the screamers in cardigan sweaters when the Aliens hit that fan; in our hearts we feel the pull to be the hero. “I am Iron Man.”
We must step forward. This can be scary so take small plausible steps but something. it Is action toward the changing our world. We are lions. (It’s interesting they guard out NYC public Library and still roar at us from a MGM movie, Richard the Lion-hearted). We, the people, must face ourselves. Some of us must jump on the cause and shout. Some must take this inside of ourselves and create a plausible authentic vision for how to participate. Maybe it is protesting. Maybe it is going into the schools. Maybe it is a forum for the police force to meet and talk to youths in small numbers so there can be communication. Maybe it is writing an article.
“I have a dream!” declared King. He also had a plan. A dream and reality must join together. Many people have a dream now. There are beautiful, smart voices speaking out to save our people, our planet, our hope. Janine Banyus is the Dali Lama of Nature’s Biomimicry. The Dali Lama proclaims, “We are responsible for our own happiness. We must harness with more than words, the good within us and acknowledge the ugly and dangerous nature of our aggression
Last August I started this blog with the commitment to speak to the best within us, to inspire and not threaten our readers to feel empowered, one by one, to take steps toward solutions of sustainability to save our planet rather than hide under our bed or on a river trip.
The funeral of George Floyd filled with me with more emotion than all the flames before; they wore masks and were 100 percent powerful in their presence. To be filled with grace and power in the midst of such pain and suffering is the sign of true courage and humanity. May we all find the courage at work, home, in community, to stand with Black lives because we know they matter.
Written By Elizabeth Arlen