“You were not expected to aspire to excellence: you were expected to make peace with mediocrity.”
James Baldwin, The Fire Next Time.
Capitalism, as the story goes, was economic system that our country was founded on. The story also tells us that to be a buyer or producer is the paramount experience. If one is consuming and living well, one is doing well. Alternatively, if one is producing things that are consumed and creating capital one is doing even better.
Recently, I reflected on the lunch counter sit-ins of the early 1960s and more recently, the controversy over baking cakes for same sex weddings. For if the story of Capitalism-is-Paramount is truly correct, why would someone deny another person the right to buy something for them? Therefore, Capital is not indeed the highest priority in America. In fact, discrimination is most likely the highest priority.
Recently my young daughter has told me numerous time that “I just don’t fit in”. She is unhappy in this world we have created for her and feels pressures of conformity and conventionality. From a young age, I too felt the pressure from the world to be squeezed into its mold. I chaffed at the idea of a life of normalcy. When my 8th grade English teacher showed us “Dead Poets Society” I felt something unlock within me. Like Knox, I longs to escape on my bike and ride through a flock of geese causing them to fly away in distress.
Until my daughter expressed these things to me, I thought my experience was uncommon. From Henry David Thoreau to James Baldwin, the artistic experience in America has been to kick against the goads of mediocrity. Yet, I fear that even amongst the all the diversity of experiences in this country, the common theme seems to be “you don’t belong here”.
So how do we build a world where we belong?