I have been accused of being “political” even in some of the entomology posts in this blog, but there is nothing political about human rights. It is my opinion that there will be no abatement of the “insect apocalypse,” no permanent success in the conservation of endangered species of any kind, until we save our own species from racism and other forms of bigotry afflicting people of color, women, agender persons, the LGBTQ population, the disabled, the neurodivergent…..
The list of persecuted Homo sapiens continues to grow thanks to colonialism, patriarchy, white supremacy, religious extremism, extreme capitalism, ableism, and the inertia of assumptions. Because of this, what is inappropriate is to exclude discussions on these urgent matters from any forum, no matter how “off topic” it might appear at first glance. It is relevant to every facet of our lives, every profession, and every pursuit.
Elizabeth Alexander is a critically-acclaimed author, poet, educator, and scholar. Her book, The Trayvon Generation (Grand Central Publishing, 2022), is a must read. It is short, at only 130 pages, so there is no excuse for even the slowest reader like me to not get through it in a timely manner. It is not a rehashing of the Black history that whites already think they know. It is deeply personal, and highly illuminating.
Alexander draws on the works of other Black scholars, writers, and artists to literally and figuratively illustrate her points throughout the three-part text. The images of these creators, and the images created by Alexander’s eloquent prose, are moving, haunting, and indelible.
One chapter is entitled “whether the negro sheds tears.” The question, asked of the Black scholar W.E.B. Du Bois in 1905 by a (presumably white) researcher, parallels another query I addressed here previously: “Do Insects Feel Pain?” The implication of the question is similar to what Alexander concludes about questions of Black emotional expression:
”Are Black people human? Do Black people do what people do. Are Black people people. If Black people are not people and do not cry, then they do not experience pain, or grief, or trauma, or shock, or sorrow. If Black people do not experience pain, or grief, or trauma, or shock , or sorrow, are they human? And if they are not human, can their continued violation be justified?”
The artifice of race cannot stand, but Alexander allows for you to come to that conclusion. She demonstrates how even she herself once experienced the “shock of delayed comprehension” at the normality of white supremacy and expectation of Black servitude in the form of a painting of Elihu Yale with this Servant, hung prominently in the Corporation Room at that Ivy League university where she worked. She had failed to previously notice the servant in the painting, or mentally censored the offensive nature of the portrait.
Many such examples abound in our daily lives but we have been conditioned to accept them as normal, as acceptable. Recognition of artworks depicting white supremacy, hostile government and business policies, mass incarceration, wage gaps, and other obscene transgressions against people of color is what is met with anger and outrage by people who stand to lose power.
I care not one whit if I lose “followers” as a result of urging you to pick up The Trayvon Generation and begin a journey toward true humanity that embraces all beings, and takes action to make it so. Imagine the heights to which our species could climb were we to extend white privilege to all ends of the human spectrum.