Community Voices: Creating an Alternative Future through Home Repairs | Wild opinion
I saw a great political ad last week from Curtis Johnson running for the Roseville School Board. Standing in front of famous time travel machines from the movies (TARDIS from “Dr. Who” and the DeLorean with Flux Capacitor from “Back to the Future”), Mr. Johnson suggests looking more at a small change in the past that will have a big impact on the past World as we know it, we should take this small step today that will have a big impact on the world for generations to come.
Mr Johnson suggests that voting is the step anyone can take to change the world and asks the viewer for their vote. As a science fiction reader, I am very familiar with the genre of alternative history. This type of fiction is based on the premise of changing some historical facts and then imagining what the world would be like.
For example, there are dozens of books that visualize the world if Germany and Japan had won World War II. And I’ve read several books that describe a world where religious extremists take over government and make the rules for everyone. Both rooms offer frightening visions of restricted civil and human rights for those living under fascist regimes.
But I hadn’t thought much about the alternative. What if something I took today made a decisive change towards a better future?
When I look through the eyes of history, what have I done or what could I do to change the world? Maybe that’s too big an idea. After all, I’m not Marie Currie or Susan B. Anthony. I have no political power. I am not an influencer on social media. I am not rich. I don’t teach or research new things. So I started thinking about the alternative here and now I want to live in it.
What would our country look like today if it hadn’t been built on a foundation of colonialism (land and resources of indigenous people) and slavery (forced labor of enslaved people)? Would we have representative numbers of people of all skin colors, genders, creeds, and cultures in governments, schools, neighborhoods, and business classes? Would we have similar birth rates and life expectancies for people of all skin colors? And more personally, would my own life include those from a different background than mine?
I recently read a book called Caste: The Origins of Our Discontent by Isabel Wilkerson. The book discusses a hidden caste system in America that is not just about race or class, but the need for the lowest rank or caste of people against which those in the middle can measure themselves. Ms. Wilkerson discusses the cost of such a system and how it affects our culture and politics.
One of the metaphors she uses throughout the book sounded right to me. She describes America as an old house that we all inherited. The outside is beautiful with shiny windows and painted facades, but if you go down into the basement you will find that the joists are crooked and the foundation is cracked. If you get behind the walls, you can find dry rot in some wooden structures or old electrical wiring, which can be dangerous and cause a fire.
Like it or not, our old house was not least built on the foundations of slavery and colonization. The work and resources of a lower caste helped generate the wealth and influence of the upper caste. Their argument is that none of us built the house today, but we all live in it and we all have a responsibility to fix it.
Here’s the tricky part, what are we doing to fix our old house? We need to create a better basis for equality; Equality in education, opportunities, housing, access to wealth accumulation, employment and security. We who have been fortunate enough to be born with physical traits associated with the upper caste in our society need to educate ourselves and practice what Ms. Wilkerson calls radical empathy, “the related connection of a place of deep knowledge, who opens your mind to “another’s pain as you perceive it. The price of privilege is the moral duty to act when one sees that another person is being treated unfairly. “
“In a caste-free world,” Ms. Wilkerson writes, “being male or female, light or dark, immigrant or native-born has no bearing on what someone is considered capable of doing. In a caste-free world, we would all invest in the well-being of others in our species, if only for our own survival, realizing that we need one another more than we are led to believe. “
In elementary school I was taught that America is the land of opportunity, that each of us can go as far as our talents and hard work will take us, that we can envision and realize our own futures. I loved this picture of America. It was painful to understand that this picture does not correspond to reality for many groups of people. As we think about how we are among the people who take action today to build an alternate story for the future, we think about what we can do in our daily DIY activities.
Beth Anderson is a Savage resident and a contributor to Community Voices.