“How with this rage shall beauty hold a plea?”
— William Shakespeare
If 2020 feels like the ten biblical plagues, it kind of is. We’ve been here before, family, and what history has taught us (when it isn’t trying to be co-opted and rewritten by a ruling class afraid of losing its knee-hold on the neck of America) is that a cleansing on the deeply spiritual, paradigmatic level is absolutely upon us. And insists upon our ears.
Police brutality. Pandemic. Vigilantism. Covid-19. Lynchings. Economic devastation. Race wars. Plagues. And plagues. And plagues.
Apparently, quarantine has sent the privileged into full-fledged apoplexy and rebellion over their “rights.” It’s an interesting twist of the Karmic screw. Exactly what rights are they fighting and risking your life and mine and their own for? A fair and equitable society? The vote? No, nothing quite so lofty. They are fighting for their right to get a manicure and a haircut. To be exempt from cooperating with a civil society that is attempting to work together to eradicate this virus. To walk their dog without a leash, lest confronted, to chillingly weaponize their knowledge of Law Enforcement’s treatment of Black people and of their own privilege, against an innocent man.
As a result of this stunning turn of hubris, while other countries are beginning to re-open and heal, America’s numbers are ever skyrocketing. We are now the pariah of the world, banned from European countries in a move so breathtaking in its Karmic comeuppance (there’s a lotta Karma goin’ on here) that Mexico would be laughing its ass off if it weren’t in such a state of collective heartbreak.
While the rest of the world slowly begins to rebuild, this pandemic—un-reined, unhinged—is annihilating an American population. So, just to give it a run for its money, let’s excavate all the old dusty bones of racial discord and inequity, individual and systemic, and start annihilating BIPOC and queer & non-binary people, while we’re at it.
Was lockdown, unprecedented in our lifetime, the final straw that exploded an already simmering pot of entitlement? Or did staying home with nothing to do except face one’s own self reveal a few too many unsettling tendencies, and perhaps the revelation that this virus knows no race, no color, no economic status, no class, no gender, no party lines, and how dare it!? Did the need for foot-stomping, and pouting, and trying to scream at the rest of us, just in case we forgot, that someone still deserves preferential treatment, mean that it was time for a slaughter?
This attempted Black genocide has been going on for a long time. This is not new. The only difference between then and now is visibility and witness. Anyone with a cellphone can now change the course of history and bring about a global awareness of what people of color have known, from the front row, for a very long time. And so, perhaps pandemics and quarantines and lockdowns and job loss have made us angrier too. And by “us,” I mean any who are invested in an evolved humanity.
Perhaps it’s no flaw in the cosmic design that two of our greatest Civil Rights leaders and Americans, Rep. John R. Lewis and C.T. Vivian, took their leave of this world on the same day, in the midst of this mess. Both men spent time in the 1960’s, along with other Freedom Riders, in the gruesome Parchman Farm State Prison, where the agreement between the federal government and the governors of Alabama and Mississippi was that these governors would agree to protect the protestors from violence in exchange for allowing them to be arrested and put in jail. You can imagine the treatment they got behind bars with handed-down edicts such as, “break their spirits, not their bones.” Lewis, in particular, was the target of violence a stunning number of times, once being left for dead at a Greyhound station, after being attacked with lead pipes, chains, and baseball bats. At times, the attacks were perpetrated by members of the Klan; at other times, it was law enforcement. Yet these men never lost their dignity. They lost neither their humanity nor the Prize. They got themselves in “good trouble,” as John Lewis was known for saying. And perhaps their leaving this world during these present roiling times was a way of saying to us: Yours is not the first of such trials, but never lose hope. Change does come.
So, the match has been lit. Lit for protest and action, which we have seen all over this globe in a way we’ve never seen before. And lit for illumination, that also, like this virus, knows no race, color, economic status, class, or gender. There is a quantum field, and we are encouraged to join a shift in consciousness. The play didn’t stop when an entire world went on pause. It has been running all throughout this pandemic, a design prompted by the monumental crack in our earth that this human population has wrought. The crack of hatred and solipsism, of the evisceration of clean air and water regulations, of holding people (children!) in cages, of utter disregard for our Star and its starlings. We are a planet in trauma. If nothing else, this novel coronavirus has forced us all to wake up to the truth that there is no separation. There is only one spiritual body operating as community, operating as the guiding force we’ve been given the charge for on this planet.
So, what do we do with that?
Health care professionals and frontline workers are saving lives even as they are risking their own. Scientists are working furiously for antidote and answer. Spiritual leaders, philosophers, and thinkers are pointing the way toward the shift with a cogent map. Activists and grassroots organizations are jolting society out of its coma and making known the critical mass of systemic racism and bigotry still embedded in our institutions, and spurring the population on to join the protests, peacefully assemble, sign petitions, call congresspersons, and VOTE. And artists? The question has been prompted, how do we create and contribute through the pain of this global implosion?
I, myself, as a writer, artist, and musician, have found it challenging in this age of pandemic not to sink into paralysis from picking up pen, brush, or instrument. Some days I feel my vocation in this life has been about frivolity and recreation and not much else. What does the world need with a clever rhyming couplet or an abstract plop on canvas when the world is on fire? Aren’t these just trifles? It may even feel appropriate to be eaten up inside from the saturation of Black murders on round-the-clock news, and Covid curves that keep soaring. Yet withering inside from fear, helplessness, and despair is not the nobility we should carry to be able to claim compassion and involvement.
Then there are other days when I absolutely know the worth and power of artists’ output. (Thank God for the other days.) It is this. Artists are perhaps a culture’s most crucial conduits to making any sense of the roiling abstract. In times of trauma, when man can get down to his dankest base very quickly, artists are the great balancers. We are tasked with entertainment and decompression, and we are also tasked with enlightenment and illumination. We reflect the culture in front of us—its devastations and victories. We solder the disconnects between us and them, black and white, red and blue, privileged and disenfranchised. We are the open door to conversation. The key to the passage.
Collapse is happening left and right: People dying from Covid-19. People dying from police brutality and white supremacy. Resources taxed. Job loss decimating the economy. Systemic racism being denied and rejected, even as we’re seeing it in action with the disproportionate numbers of POC’s dying from the virus. Yet, as artists, we are always being turned inward, to the expansive, limitless sanctum of our imaginations, to what is possible. The process of creating an expression, AND the process of experiencing an artistic expression, both, bring new understandings about ourselves and the world around us. Artists are the re-aligners. The Great Connectors. We are the demanders of peace.
Shakespeare asks the question in his 65th Sonnet of how in the midst of all this mess can beauty possibly hold a plea. His poetry then goes on to illumine that time decays everything but beauty. And here’s why. Beauty is not prettiness. Beauty is beyond any physicality of a thing. Beauty is anathema to trauma. It is truth. And trauma is the body’s response to any aberration of truth. And so, for artists it’s really a very simple cause-and-effect—we bring truth, we bring healing.
So, let us sing this world into peace.
Write this world into peace.
Dance this world into peace.
Paint this world into peace.
Sculpt this world into peace.
Photograph this world into peace.
Film this world into peace.
Rap this world into peace.
Act this world into peace.
Conduct this world into peace.
Compose and orchestrate this world into peace.
Harmonize this world into peace.
Narrate this world into peace.
Orate this world into peace.
Make this world laugh into peace.
Jazz this world into peace.
Blues this world into peace.
Chant this world into peace.
IMAGINE this world into peace.
Artists imagine what can be. Or what should never be again. Then make manifest the imagining. We are the howlers and sentinels of a culture. The watchmen. The gatekeepers. Don’t let them tell you that you are not an essential worker.
Agitators and integrators, we. So, sing. And keep singing this world into peace.
You find more of Angela's work at www.angelacarolebrown.com.