Thursday, August 21, 2014

I Learn Something Old Every Day

I know that Carolyn is a longtime Middle East peace activist. Until this week, I had no idea she had been a journalist, too. The death of reporter James Foley affected her personally, and I would have realized that if I'd known her background.

I learn something old every day.

Sure, there are new social media platforms to try out and techniques to learn. Scientists make new discoveries about what goes on inside the brain and outside the galaxy. New books come out and demand to be read. New pop phenomena spring up and dry out like summer lilies in the fall.

Often, though, it's the old stories we should listen to most urgently, and the old realities we should try to understand. The death of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri at the hands of a police officer is this week's news, but it's a very old story.

To understand it, we have to know about the history of Jim Crow, and of slavery. To evaluate the media coverage, we have to remember--or find out--how various white-owned media have covered racially marked stories, from the OJ Simpson trial to the Clarence Thomas hearings.  We need to know black media covered them, too, and how that created a divide between our perceptions of what actually happened. (Just as important, we need to know what stories we haven't heard.)

Yes, that's a lot to find out. Yes, the quest to understand will never end. But if we are going to be able to look our neighbors in the face, let alone live and work together, we must learn something old every day.  (And when I say "we," I start with myself.)

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