Builders laid the foundation this week for a new home four doors down the street from my house. One of the city’s oldest residences had stood vacant for years on this prime, riverfront lot. A local businesswoman bought the property, tore down the old house before it could collapse on its own, and is building her dream home.
Though largely invisible, foundations are essential. When my husband and I moved into our vintage home thirty-six years ago, we were aware there were some foundation issues. One bedroom had a floor that sagged so badly, we couldn’t use the room. We simply shut the door and pretended the problem didn’t exist. Until.
With visitors coming for the holidays, we needed that bedroom. We tore out the floor, finding very little foundation and what appeared to be a hole to China. Or, as my husband observed, “This house is hanging from its eaves!” Nothing that truckloads of concrete and a whopping big check couldn’t fix.
Now I’m wondering if our nation isn’t hanging from its eaves. With 2020 vision, we can no longer shut the door against our foundational flaws. The “independence” that we celebrate on July Fourth was utterly dependent on an economy fueled by the slave labor of Africans. The expansion of our nation required displacement and genocide of indigenous people who’d flourished on this continent for thousands of years. Racism was and continues to be built into our foundation like so much rebar.
Throughout my lifetime, our nation has struggled to address its foundational flaws: integration of the military, Brown v. Board of Education, elimination of Jim Crow, Civil Rights Act, Voting Rights Act, first Black man to do this, first Native American woman to be that … and yet we are a long way from being able to wipe the dirt off our hands and declare, “Well now, that’s done!”
“Interrupting the forces of racism is ongoing, lifelong work,” writes University of Washington professor Robin DiAngelo, “because the forces conditioning us into racist frameworks are always at play; our learning will never be finished.”*
What with a pandemic, its economic impacts, and massive protests, we’ve hardly had breath or time to observe another significant 2020 event: the centennial of the Nineteenth Amendment, allowing women to vote––after an epic struggle. A hundred years later, women continue to be in the minority in government, a minority in earning power, and we have yet to elect a woman President.
We have protests and marches because––eventually––they’re effective. Notes historian Jon Meacham: “Progress in America does not usually begin at the top and among the few, but from the bottom among the many. It comes when the whispered hopes of those outside the mainstream rise in volume to reach the ears and hearts and minds of the powerful.”**
Those “whispered hopes” have risen in volume to shouts, screams, and wails of anguish that have echoed through our land for centuries. How much, I wonder, are we willing to invest to fix our foundation? How much of an economic investment? But more significant, how much humility are we willing to invest?
* DiAngelo, Robin, “White Fragility: Why It’s So Hard for White People to Talk About Racism.”
** Meacham, Jon, “The Soul of America: The Battle for Our Better Angels.”