In 2012, Joshua Bell, one of the most famous violinists of our generation, in collaboration with the Washington Post, set up a social experiment to see what would happen if he were to play a free concert in L’Enfant Plaza subway station in Washington, DC on a 3.5 million dollar Stradivarius. During his 45 minute concert, Bell only had seven people stop and listen to him play while over a thousand people walked by him.
That’s because settings matter.
Setting change what we are supposed to pay attention to. In one setting, at a concert hall, you may be worth hundreds of dollars a ticket. However, in the subway station, you are worth pennies on the dollar. (Bell made a total of $32 that day. $20 came from a woman who recognized him.)
We see what we choose to see.
Here is some of the data:
- The US has 5% of the population and holds 22% of the world’s prisoners.
- African Americans are incarcerated 5 times more than white people.
- African Americans and Hispanics make up approximately 32% of the US population, they comprised 56% of all incarcerated people
- More than half of all US incarcerated adults are parents to a child. 70% of children with incarcerated parents follow their footsteps.
- US has a recidivism rate of 30% in the first year out of prison.
This isn’t even the tip of the iceberg. Convict leasing to disenfranchisement to Jim Crowe Laws and to the modern problems of today. Mainly, declaring the war on drugs as a criminal problem instead of mental health issue, the prison industrial complex (Corrections Corporation of America), the militarization of police forces….
We say we believe in justice in this country but do consider how difficult it is to get a job or an apartment after someone spends time in prison? How do you create a resume if the last decade was spent behind bars?
We have forgotten the power of second chances.
These are the real issues. Not whether you agree with everything the decentralized structure of the Black Lives Movement.
It is easy to tell ourselves a story saying, “No thanks. Too controversial. I’m going to sit this one out.”
It’s easy to forget that Dr. King was controversial. He had been arrested. He was on the FBI, NSA, and CIA surveillance list. Hoover was trying to throw the movement off course and abusing his power to do anything he could to discredit King as a leader.
Collin Kaepernick, Malcolm X, Rosa Parks…all had controversy surrounding them.
Controversy is not an excuse to sit on the sidelines. It is a place to hide.
The bottom line:
The only grace you can have is the grace you can imagine.
When the relationship with your black brothers and sisters is no longer in question, then we can ask what do we want to create?