On seeing the defaced statue of George Washington in Druid Hill Park, Baltimore, MD
Reading an article about four confederate statues in Baltimore that quietly came down in 2017, I felt pride to have grown up in Baltimore. Then, I opened an article showing a picture of a statue of George Washington in Druid Hill Park that had been draped in red paint and the words “Destroy racists” and “BLM” carved into the base of the statue.
I started to sob and hyperventilate and embrace joy all at the same time. As a child, I played in Druid Hill Park, visited there with my family many times, loved the animals – there was a zoo – the plants, the green, the space – until my mother said, no we shouldn’t go there, that is where the “colored people” go.
Seeing the statues there come down – something hard and firm, the embedded racist history of our country, entombed ,enshrined, venerated – toppling to the ground evoked something deeply painful, hallowed, indescribably hopeful, in me. I’ve so long questioned – where is that white oppressor residing in me, fragmenting, crushing, sealing off, deadening a piece of my soul? How do I access it, acknowledge it, release its grasp to make whole again? There it was, is – here it is – I still can’t describe it but I’m touching it. Oh, white people, we need to touch this, we need to find this place in ourselves that allows this all to go on and on – that values politeness, civility and white solidarity above this raw, powerful, effective, desperately required releasing of the demons long held in our collective story. Eating us alive from the inside. All of us. Fatal to people with brown and black skin, but eating all of us alive.
Baltimore. As I grew older, my mother increasingly warned us – don’t go shopping at Mondawmin Mall, avoid this area, avoid that area – that’s the Negro(sic) area of Baltimore – that’s dangerous.
That’s where, oh yes, our maid lived. And that also is where a young man named Ta-Nehisi Coates was born in 1975. While I was in grad school in California, beginning my practice at Zen Center of Los Angeles, a young Ta-Nehisi Coates also inhabited Baltimore, his Baltimore, my Baltimore.
Dear white people, let the statues fall, let that entombed history crumble beneath our rage – it is our rage too – it was our rage first – why else to hang, mutilate, destroy, marginalize people who dared to look for success and happiness and excellence in their lives, just like us, even after we had bought and sold people — yes, people– bred families of them to serve our needs as though they were livestock – indeed deemed them possessions unworthy of human rights? That, my white friends, was our rage, white rage. Feel the possibility of that rage spilling from those statues, absorbing back into the generous, eternally patient, yet tenderly fragile Earth, making fertilizer for the huge, barely mapped but inevitable – yes I choose to proclaim inevitable – work ahead. Building on decades, centuries of work already done, the work ahead.
Let it fall, let it go. Breathe. Let the statues carry our collective grief, the hideous suffering of hundreds of years and still daily suffering of the people oppressed by what those statues embody back into the earth. And let those falling statues call forth the yet to be acknowledged, seen and embraced sorrow and shame of the oppressors – that is our call to action, we who oppressed – that is ours to do even if we don’t yet know how. As a child of the Buddha, I too reach and touch the Earth asking her to bear witness, as she ever does, to the suffering and to bear witness to the joy of a hope born of voices louder and clearer, voices to which I add my own small voice proclaiming that we are the suffering, the sufferer and the cause and that we can stop.
From the National Memorial for Peace and Justice, Montgomery, AL