Political Will: A Meditation

In my introductory foundations course in education, we have been watching Corridor of Shame and discussing the historical negligence of some schools, some students, and some communities in South Carolina for generations; in this case, “some” means “black” and “poor.”

The maudlin and melodramatic documentary is grounded in a court case that has taken the state two decades to settle—and then to proceed to do exactly nothing.

As we waded into a class discussion of this political negligence, I stressed a refrain I am moving toward more and more often: political will.

The godawful Truth of the matter is that public schools in high-poverty black communities—notably those along the I-95 corridor—are underfunded, marginalized, and essentially left to chance exactly because this is what we want in the state.

Nowhere in the U.S. at the state or federal level is there a lack of money, resources, or expertise to do anything we wish to do. What we choose to do and what we choose to ignore are exactly what we want.

In 2014, I wrote this poem:

It is a poem about political will, about the tyranny of the privileged and the consequences of that tyranny for marginalized groups; I highlight women and children, but this is also about black and brown people, people in poverty, religious minorities, foreign nationals, transgender people, gay people—anyone not of the centered community that is white, male, straight, and a certain kind of superficial Christian.

A former student of mine, Lucas Patterson, posted a Nikki Giovanni poem on Facebook, “Allowables,” and I felt my heart sink:


In fact, I felt sick physically and in my soul because of this:

Tulsa police officer Betty Shelby, identified as the officer who shot 40-year-old Terence Crutcher on Friday night, has offered her side of the story in the fatal encounter.

In dashcam and helicopter video released by police, Crutcher appears to have his hands up moments before he is shot by Shelby. Shelby’s attorney, Scott Wood, maintains that Crutcher refused to follow more than two dozen commands and that he reached into the open window of the car before Shelby perceived a threat and shot him….

Shelby believed that when Crutcher attempted to reach into the car, he was retrieving a weapon, Wood said. In her interview with homicide detectives, she said, “I was never so scared in my life as in that moment right then,” according to Wood.

Just as people who call themselves Christian and patriots will without a thought crush a spider under the soles of their shoes, those people will and have created this world and allow it to be exactly as they want it to be.

A world where black men’s names become hash tags as inconsequential as court cases being settled.

A world of unwarranted privilege at the expense of the Other.

The world was exactly as they expected, exactly as they knew it to be.

And mostly not as it could have been, or should have been.

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