We’re going to Mars because it gives us a
reason to change
— Nikki Giovanni, “Quilting the Black-Eyed Pea (We’re Going to Mars)“
More and more major league athletes have been following Colin Kaepernick’s lead and kneeling at the national anthem. An action that seems powerful enough to get thousands of people talking and our would-be-dictator upset. An action that is purely symbolic: a symbolic movement in response to symbolic words and music. To act in this case is simply to move the body in a different way, in a context that wields not the money that these players have but their cultural power.
In fact this action seems to be more powerful, to resonate across our communities, more than all the foundations and volunteering that so many major league players have done and do. While those things make a substantial difference in people’s lives, we are dealing with a promise of equality and democracy that has been ripped to shreds, taking along with it our safety on this planet. Sports players kneeling has gotten people’s attention across the typical red/blue lines that divide political votes.
Major league sports players are wielding a kind of symbolic cultural power not just because they are good at sports, but because they are leaders in a vibrant thriving sports culture.
Unschooling is revolutionary not just for rejecting the school system and school thinking, but because by following our passions and our curiosity, I believe all of us can find the cultural power that these players are wielding. And not only the cultural influence and status, but the “reason to change.”
We’re going to Mars because whatever is
wrong with us will not get right with us
so we journey forth carrying the same baggage
but every now and then leaving
one little bitty thing behind:
maybe drop torturing hunchbacks here;
maybe drop lynching Billy Budd there;
maybe not whipping Uncle Tom to death;
maybe resisting global war.
One day looking for prejudice to slip … one
day looking for hatred to tumble by the wayside
… one day maybe the whole community
will no longer be vested in who sleeps with
whom … maybe one day the Jewish community
will be at rest … the Christian community
will be content … the Muslim community will
be at peace … and all the rest of us will get
great meals at holy days and learn new
songs and sing in harmony
I am to a fault a very practical and serious person. Too utilitarian. So my first reaction to this poem, was space? What a wacky idea. Why bother when there are so many problems at home to deal with. I want to tackle racial injustice head on and fight it. Why waste the money and time on going to space?
I am like this about sports too. I have gotten into serious conflict asking people why they care about who wins a sports game when all the players are only on that team because that’s who gave them a scholarship, that’s who drafted them and paid them. What’s the point? And despite my present-day arguments on this blog, I’m also someone who used to despise video games as the biggest waste of time possible.
We can’t always make passion utilitarian though, and we shouldn’t. Human passion and curiosity, the drive to win a game, the drive to play and get better: these things matter. And they build communities. I got to be judgmental and utilitarian because my chosen interest in literature had more cultural cache, seemed more valuable than other peoples’ interests in video games. It got me into college and graduate school.
But our passions, our curiosity, our culture, is valuable not because it can be used but because it gives us our humanity, our community, our reason to change.
We’re going to Mars because Peary
couldn’t go to the North Pole
without Matthew Henson
because Chicago couldn’t be a city
without Jean Baptiste DuSable
because George Washington Carver and his
peanut was the right partner for Booker T.
It’s a life seeking thing
“It’s a life seeking thing”
Sports players kneeling makes a difference because their passion has led them to excel, and made them leaders of fans and teams. Going to Mars, Giovanni argues, gives us a reason to change our worlds and relationships to each other and leave cruelty behind.
For many unschoolers, their passion for video games not only has “utilitarian” benefits in teaching problem solving etc, but more importantly creates and strengthens a vibrant human community. A community that has somewhere to go–the next game, the next level, the next challenge–and a reason to change.
Gamer gate, when female speakers were harrassed and threatened to the point of not attending a conference, brought up everything that is wrong with gamer culture. But it also is merely a microcosm of the problems in our culture at large. And the passion for games keeps girls playing, and gives them a reason to find each other and strengthen their communities and change gamer culture. Like the players kneeling,
One thing that pushed me to unschooling was the 2007 housing crisis and subsequent recession. That recession turned to dust two of the promises my middle class whiteness had made me: first, that if you work hard in school you will be able to go to college; second, that you could get government job and have a moderate income but security and safety. The recession led to my husband being laid off and to fees and my university rising 30%, then more and more and more. I tried protesting to stop the fee increases, but it did nothing and instead revealed more corruption and false promises at the heart of my university. These promises of safety shattered.
My experience of safety and security shattering is nothing compared to what every Black person in this country experiences. When the entire police force has it in their power to hurt or kill you with impunity there is no safety.
Nikki Giovanni’s poem is not just about the drive for adventure leading you to mars, and leading you to change your culture along the way. It’s about the history of Black humanity and cultural genius, the ability to stay human when–on a rocket ship for a year or smashed deep into a ship on the middle passage–you “won’t know which way to look.”
When the rocket red glares the astronauts
will be able to see themselves pull away
from Earth … as the ship goes deeper they
will see a sparkle of blue … and then one day
not only will they not see Earth … they won’t
know which way to look … and that is why
NASA needs to call Black America
They need to ask us: How did you calm your
fears … How were you able to decide you
were human even when everything said you
were not … How did you find the comfort in
the face of the improbable to make the
world you came to your world …