We can’t do everything at once. Literally, we cannot do everything at once. And so, a lot that needs to be paid attention to; a lot that needs to get done; a lot that is important, maybe crucial; is simply never dealt with. And the advocates of such concerns speak, and write, and yell, and scream, and yet, the issue is still ignored.
Because we can’t do everything at once.
There is a very old piece of folk-wisdom about this: “the squeaky wheel gets the grease.” And there is always a squeaky wheel, and the other wheels that need some grease simply do not get any until the squeak becomes almost unbearable.
I thought of this all this as I began to dive into the book The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness by Michele Alexander. This book is the selection for the March Urban Engagement Book Club (sponsored by CitySquare), a book club which focuses on issues of social justice and poverty.
Near the end of the book, Ms. Alexander writes this:
Change in civil rights organizations, like change in society as a whole, will not come easy. Fully committing to a vision of racial justice that includes grassroots, bottom-up advocacy on behalf of “all of us” will require a major reconsideration of priorities, staffing, strategies, and messages. Egos, competing agendas, career goals, and inertia may get in the way. It may be that traditional civil rights organizations simply cannot, or will not, change. To this it can only be said, without a hint of disrespect, adapt or die.
The book is an indictment of the new “caste” system in this country, a change that she backs up with an overwhelmingly clear argument, and data, like this:
There are more African Americans under correctional control today — in prison or jail, on probation or parole — than were enslaved in 1850, a decade before the Civil War began.
This presents a serious challenge to all of us interested in issues of social justice and racial equality.
But the quote from the book also presents a reminder to all “set in their ways, blind to reality” companies and organizations. “Adapt or die.”