Friends, I hope this finds you well. My colleague Kerry Lord ran a Zoom session on wellness for 300 people today which expanded my thinking about what we mean by wellness—that it is not just about our emotional and physical health—we should also be talking about intellectual and social wellness. That all seems exactly right at the moment, when I for one am struggling to find equilibrium. There have been many moving and powerful statements written about the events of recent days and I don’t think I can do better. So I urge you to read these missives if you haven’t already: my colleague Richard Lemons, on behalf of the Center; Matt Geary, superintendent in Manchester CT; and this joint letter from the leaders in Milford CT—seeing all the signatures at the bottom made me well up.
I can also point you towards other resources to expand and refine your mental models about race and racism. Months ago we encouraged friends of the Center to join us in reading How to be an Anti-Racist by Ibram Kendi. We had scheduled a gathering to talk about the book that had to be postponed because of the shutdown, but I think many people had already read the book—you are probably as fascinated as I am to see its language permeate news and commentary. We chose the book because we thought it might change the conversation in the state. How amazing to see it change the conversation across the country. So, in addition to reading the book, you may find helpful:
One of the books I did manage to read at the start of the lockdown was Claude Steele’s Whistling Vivaldi: How stereotypes affect us and what we can do. Great book, I’m embarrassed that I didn’t read it when it first came out, and I’ll be writing more about it. If you want to get a taste of it, much of it is available on Google Books. It has direct bearing on education, but I’m bringing it up here because of the research cited about the pernicious influence of racism on the health of those who suffer because of it. Racism hits the news when it comes in the form of a sharp and sometimes deadly sting, but we must not forget that it is also a dull ache. This takes a physical toll: “Prolonged, high effort coping with difficult psychosocial stressors could be the most parsimonious explanation for greater hypertension among poorer populations, including blacks.” Physical wellness and social wellness are tightly coupled. When people of color talk about being exhausted at the repetitive stress of dealing with racism, they are not being hyperbolic.
The Economist has a tight summary of racial disparities in the US that is worth reading, but of all the things I have read lately, this story in the New Yorker about a black woman’s encounter with the justice system during a pandemic moved me the most. I cannot in a million years believe that this would happen to me. And this, of course, is the lesson: that what is beyond the imagining of most white people is the daily reality of many people of color. Which means that real change has to include a transformation in the mental models of white people, but they are highly unlikely to have the experience that would afford that shift. Our intellectual wellness is, then, also implicated—our ability to stretch our mental models beyond its current capacity through absorbing and integrating the experience of others. Now is the time.
Stay well, in all its meanings. Let me know if there is anything I can do for you. Best, Isobel