Monday Reading List: Choosing Justice Over Negative Peace

Good morning! My first thought waking up today, which feels important to say aloud, is that my deepest wish is for a week filled with "positive peace" and not "negative peace." I cribbed both terms from Letter from a Birmingham Jail:

I must make two honest confessions to you, my Christian and Jewish brothers. First, I must confess that over the past few years I have been gravely disappointed with the white moderate. I have almost reached the regrettable conclusion that the Negro's great stumbling block in his stride toward freedom is not the White Citizen's Counciler or the Ku Klux Klanner, but the white moderate, who is more devoted to "order" than to justice; who prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice; who constantly says: "I agree with you in the goal you seek, but I cannot agree with your methods of direct action"; who paternalistically believes he can set the timetable for another man's freedom; who lives by a mythical concept of time and who constantly advises the Negro to wait for a "more convenient season." Shallow understanding from people of good will is more frustrating than absolute misunderstanding from people of ill will. Lukewarm acceptance is much more bewildering than outright rejection.

I know those words make me uncomfortable, so it's no surprise if they have the same effect on you. I encourage my white friends to wrestle with the entirety of the letter, especially if you make a habit of quoting MLK's more sanitized words.

There are so many important pieces of wisdom and reporting to share from the weekend, but I'll narrow it down to a few. Yamiche Alcindor at the New York Times examines the ways in which violence affects children:

Again and again, children are finding themselves enmeshed in the country’s roiling debate over police treatment of African-Americans. The close-up views of violence, obviously traumatizing, are giving rise to a generation of young people who distrust authority, grow up well before their time and suffer nightmares that seem too real. “As a mother, I have now been forced to raise a son who is going to remember what happened to his father,” said Quinyetta McMillon, the mother of the boy in Louisiana who sobbed over the death of his father, Alton Sterling. “That I can’t take away from him.” While adults around them protest and demand criminal justice reform, young witnesses of the carnage are reeling from their losses and harboring pent-up depression that often comes pouring out in panic attacks and breakdowns, relatives say.

There are specific things that educators can do to support children dealing with trauma, and I shared those on the reading list last week. Here are some additional links.

Vincent A., a Nigerian man studying at MIT, shared a non-American African's take on our country's issues with race:

... in Nigeria, virtually everyone has the same dark skin. Sure, there’s a substantial number of white people and Asians and a tapestry of races, but mostly, we’re black. And because we’re mostly black, “being black” was never a term that was part of my daily vocabulary ... But by my first week in this country, that word popped up a lot ... The word “black” got more weight and I wasn’t quite sure how to deal with it ... This is the same country that had separate toilets, fountains, buses for “colored people”. This is the same place where black people were once slaves, property, indistinguishable from land and cows and cutlery. This is the same place where historically black colleges had to be a thing for black people to have any hope of an education.

Sometimes we have to step outside of our quotidian context to understand what's really happening. Talking to folks in other countries about racism in America is a powerful way to see the issue with fresh eyes. Jamilah Lemieux at Ebony wants us to keep those eyes on the critical issue of the justice system:

When a deranged man came from Baltimore to Bedford Stuyvesant, Brooklyn (an area known for the abusive practices of local law enforcement) and ambushed two police officers last year, there was an immediate response of “See, both sides are suffering!” But while those murders, like the ones in Texas last night, were totally unjustified and heartbreaking, it is unreasonable to suggest that police face the same danger at the hands of civilians that civilians face at their hands. Were that the case, considering the number of weapons in Black communities across this country, we probably would have seen more of these horrible killings. The danger of American policing doesn’t just leave Black people dead, it finds them behind bars, saddled with unreasonable fines and tickets, unable to obtain employment, afraid to call for help when it is needed and dealing with the trauma that accompanies the knowledge that the hands that took an oath to protect you are legally emboldened to do quite the opposite.

Lemieux's point about false equivalence is so important. This should go without saying, but professional classes, like police officers, are wildly different from racial identities in just about every way imaginable. Those identities are important to acknowledge in an education context. Here's a post from a former Minnesota teacher of the year, with some tough talk for other teachers:

We can decry racist cops and the racist criminal justice system, but we better not hold our tongues about racist teachers and the racist education system. We better not use their excuses about how the media is making it hard for us to do our jobs, about how the family and community of our students is to blame. We better not say “not all teachers,” and we better not say, “no one would chose teaching if they were racist.” We sound ridiculous. Anyone sounds ridiculous when they say race isn’t an issue, most especially when they can point out at racism in others and somehow imagine it doesn’t touch their own work. Teachers, this is us. We are them, without guns. We take lives with subtlety, with patient violence.

That's some of the most challenging language I have ever seen about being a white teacher in a nonwhite context. Here are a few other pieces by white folks for other white folks. And thanks to the Huffington PostFusion, NPR's "Code Switch," attn:, and others for amplifying the piece I wrote last week. Have a week filled with positive peace, and justice.