I'm still reading my way through my Christmas presents, despite the lockdown.
In my defence, I got a lot of books. Plus, you know how it can be. You get caught up with other things. Life does what it does.
At least, until it didn't.
And so I got to make a proper dent in my reading list.
The latest, a book my brother brought me back from his trip to The USA, I started a couple of weeks ago. It's right up my alley, as a fan of myths and folk tales and stories in general.
It's African American Folktales, Selected and Edited by Roger D Abrahams (1933-2017) who was the Hum Rosen Professor of Folklore and Folklife at the University of Pennsylvania, President of the American Folklore Society and the author of many books, monographs and articles on African American, Creole, Caribbean and American Culture, to quote the blurb.
It's a cracking read, one I highly recommend.
In light of the last few days of news from The USA, one folktale mentioned in the Introduction sticks in my mind. It's a seemingly silly little story about animals, with a morale and a sting in the tail.
It's the tale of Sis Goose, who gets caught by Brer Fox as she swims around the pond. Feeling that she had every right to swim around the pond, Sis Goose sues Brer Fox. Alas, when she gets to court, Sis Goose looks around and finds that the Sheriff is a fox; the judge was a fox, too; the attorneys were all foxes, same with the members of the jury.
So the trial is held, Sis Goose is convicted and the foxes execute her on the spot, before feasting on her bones.
The morale of the story, then, is that if all the folks in the courthouse are foxes, there's not going to be much justice for a goose.
I've been to the USA once, summer of 2001, as a child. I have never had experience of it's legal system, nor will I ever fully comprehend what it must feel like to be Black in America (or Scotland, the UK, Europe or anywhere), now, then or tomorrow.
I can't help but feel, though, that at times it must feel a lot like how Sis Goose must have felt, when she stepped into that courtroom and saw foxes all around her.
I look and I see a black man dying whilst restrained by Police officers, all three of whom are putting their weight upon his prone body, one on his neck. I look and see no threat to life, limb or property. I look and see no ongoing danger posed to the Police officers. I look and hear a man say I Can't Breathe. I look and I see him die, slowly.
I want to look away.
I look and I see peaceful protesters set upon by riot police, who use teargas and rubber bullets and baton charges and shield strikes and vehicles and cattle rams. I look and I see peaceful protesters cleared so their Narcissist-In-Chief can stage a photo opportunity in front of a nearby church. I look and I hear that same President threaten to use American military might against those to whom they are pledged to defend. I look and see the Police attack those they are pledged to protect and serve.
I want to look away.
I look and I see retaliations, escalations, curfews and chaos. I look and I see looting and burning and man's inhumanity to man. I look and I hear platitudes and naval gazing and blame shifting and coal raking.
I want to look away.
I look and I see geese, being feasted upon by foxes.
I think of how much more of this I am seeing just because it is the USA, a land with which I share a language, a land who's pop culture has come to almost entirely dominate that of Scotland, the UK, Europe. Their music, their movies, their TV, their conglomerates, their social media platforms.
I think how much of this kind of thing, and worse besides, escapes the full glare of the attention of a Western audience, by dint of happening in Africa, or the Middle East, or Asia. I think of the untold horrors in these less visible places and I understand why we as a Western world tend to want to look away.
And I think, I mustn't look away. And I think, we mustn't look away. Not from the injustice that goes on at home. Not from the injustice across the globe. And not from the injustice of which George Floyd was but one victim, across the Pond in the USA.
I think of a fictional hero of mine, Josiah Bartlet, President of the USA in The West Wing. I think of how he spoke of hatred in a memorable moment and declared 'They weren't born wanting to do this', and how that echoes Mandela and many others; hate is taught, discrimination is learned and therefore so, too, can love and peace.
I think of how that Fictional President called for an age of American Heroes, who reach for the stars.
And I think how hard it must be to even see the stars, when there is a knee on your neck.
I think about how we can all do better, work harder, think longer, care more deeply, love more fully. I think about the ways in which the world has gotten better and the ways in which is must get better still.
I think about how important it is to listen to the voices of the oppressed, to champion the right to protest peacefully and to try and imagine what it must feel like to suffer such injustice, to live in such fear, to have it as a daily, life long companion.
And most of all I think about how important it is to read, watch and listen to stories, as many as you can, from as many voices as you can find. Even the silly ones, about a goose and a fox.