Christina Lee’swork has most recently appeared in Atlanta magazine,The Creative Independent, Delta Sky, NPR Music and Thrillist. She hosts the podcasts ”Bottom of the Map” and ”Racket: Inside the Gold Club.” (Photo by Chris McIntosh)
In July, I finally read March, the late John Lewis’ graphic novel memoir trilogy. Of course I wanted to better understand and be heartened by the congressman’s life and the legacy he left behind. [For those who haven’t read it, Lewis flashes back to the civil rights movement from Barack Obama’s first presidential inauguration.] But I also wanted to compare those memories to what we’ve seen in 2020, from the acts of police brutality to white supremacist violence. Since I finished reading March, I’ve mostly been thinking about how chilling the similarities between these images are.
Admitting this is difficult, but right now I can’t help but feel cynical. I can’t be sure whether we’ll fully see racial equality, when the United States was literally built off the genocide and forced relocations of Native Americans and the enslavement of Africans, and this country enacted the Chinese Exclusion Act and interned Japanese Americans long before Trump separated migrant families at the U.S.-Mexico border. Recently I put together a playlist describing how I’m trying to stay afloat — though it feels incomplete, because there isn’t a song for that sinking feeling for every time President Donald Trump calls coronavirus the “kung-flu.” You’d also think that the media would be proud to uplift journalists who are representative of their diversifying readership. Instead, from Bon Appetit and Conde Nast to PRX, Refinery 29 to PAPER magazine and Okayplayer, I as a journalist and critic have internalized how these institutions have never truly valued these perspectives.
Yet I have to acknowledge that some small part of me refuses to completely give up — not when I keep searching my bookshelf for answers. That’s where I found the March series after I bought it in 2017. And that’s where I also found my thrifted copy of Living Buddha, Living Christ by Thich Nhat Hanh, the Vietnamese Buddhist monk nominated by the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. for a Nobel Peace Prize. Most of the book is a whole other discussion, though last week I highlighted this passage: “The heart of Buddhist meditation is mindfulness — the energy that helps us know what is happening in the present moment. If what is happening in the present moment is the destruction of human lives, the monk should engage himself in the work of helping and caring. This is a concrete expression of compassion.”
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