This was written on the eve of the Solidarity March for Black Lives Matter in Kitchener, and published via CultKW.com on the day of: Wednesday, June 3, 2020.
I was going to write something about museums for this top of the month of June column. Jonathan Walford and Kenn Norman of the Fashion History Museum in Hespeler, Cambridge, were guests on our community radio magazine program on CKWR 98.5 last night, and they had all sorts of interesting news to share.
But current developments have set me in a different direction. At 5pm today the Solidarity March for Black Lives Matter is happening in Kitchener’s venerable Victoria Park. That’s very close to where I live. Unfortunately, I don’t think I’m ready to leave my coop just yet. I’m old, and have various vulnerabilities.
So what can this poor boy do instead? “ … [S]ing for a rock & roll band,” Mick Jagger mused at a time when people all over the world were fighting in the streets. I was still a teenager then. In 2020, all I can think of is maybe do a history lecture. Why not? (I wish I was in a band, though. This Groot never liked being a solo act).
On Saturday, March 21, I was scheduled to give a talk at the 2020 United Nations International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination observance at Kitchener City Hall, a gift to the community that Gehan Sabry of Cross Cultures magazine has been putting together for many years. (She also does the Cross Cultures radio hour Saturday mornings on CKWR 98.5).
The lockdown started in earnest during the week leading up to the event. So my talk never happened.
Because I usually wait until the last minute on projects like this, I never finished my speaking notes. But I had a good idea of what I wanted to say, so when Gehan asked for a description, I was able to promptly scribble something down.
“I’d like to talk about causes and commitments,” I told her. “It was through happenstance, not conscious choice, that I became involved with arts, culture and heritage with a local/regional focus. So my bias is towards a personal, biographical approach, as opposed to rational ‘prioritization’ ’’.
That was putting it mildly. I am adamantly opposed to setting priorities for others to follow with regard to their personal causes and commitments.
“However,” I went on in my talk description, “with a growing sense of urgency arising on so many fronts, especially over what is called the ‘climate emergency’, one is drawn towards re-examining long-held interests and preferences. I’m going to propose that convergence, rather than increased specialization, holds the most promise.”
In my talk, I would have taken the long view. I would have suggested that, although the story of anglophone, francophone and allophone North America has many subplots, it is essentially a single narrative for developments over more than five centuries on this continent, from Trinidad and the Mexican border to Nunavut; from Buena Vista to the redwood forest.
The story begins with alien invaders stealing land from men and women who had lived in harmony with place in the world for generation after generation, and then trying to drive them into oblivion. From there, they proceeded to steal other men and women from what had been their land and their people for generation after generation, and ship them here to this side of the Atlantic. Why? The aliens stole African women, children and men in order to possess, work, breed, and sell their bodies.
My forebears, the sea-faring, sharp-dealing Nederlanders, played a particularly ignominious role in this woeful tale.
The talk would have mentioned 1619, when Africa in what is now the U.S. began. That’s a year before the Mayflower brought the Pilgrims, those radical Protestant separatists who “came out” of a kingdom and a church they considered corrupt beyond redemption in order to found a new, pure colony in the wilderness.
This November will mark the 400th anniversary of that sub-plot of the big story. (The quad-centennial of another key development, the beginning of England and France in our deep, deep south, i.e. the Caribbean, will happen in 2025).
The plan was to talk up some history and some autobiography, and then tie it all together with the fundamental issue of humanity’s relationship to all lands and all seas, i.e. our earthly home. It would have included a reference to the “ALARM” exhibit that is currently running at THEMUSEUM. I even thought of asking CEO David Marskell if my talk might be a fit for the series of discussions planned in conjunction with this exhibit, now sadly shut off from public view.
But in the wake of what happened in Minneapolis last week, juxtaposed with news about that 21st-century Mayflower adventure called SpaceX, which proposes to “come out” of a defiled planet and set out on an errand into the wilderness on Mars, I’m going to have to make some major revisions to what I have to say.
When I’m ready, I’ll let you know.