By Tim Webber
Washington, D.C. is an onion. It has a lot of layers, and it will sometimes make you cry.
On this trip, we’ve already seen two of these layers. Two days ago, we saw the stereotypical layer that tourists envision when they arrive in our nation’s capital, filled with monuments to our triumphs and memorials for our fallen. The day before, we saw Washington as a livable and diverse city when we explored the city’s hidden secrets.
Today, we were reminded that Washington has another, bloodier layer.
Our morning session at the Washington Center focused on race, and we were fortunate enough to listen to two electrifying speakers: Dr. Michael Eric Dyson and Dr. Greg Carr. Dyson’s lecture was a tour de force — verbal gymnastics of the best kind.
…So I hope another student writes about it, because I’m planning to discuss what was said by Carr, a professor at Howard University.
Carr spoke on America’s morally unresolved history, an issue that Jess Lynk also grappled with in an earlier blog entry. The historical figures who we revere with enormous monuments and grandiose buildings had their dark sides. Many owned slaves. The country itself has a long history of displacing the native people of its lands.
Carr spoke of “Intellectual CSI,” visiting the places meant to honor these figures and instead reflecting on their failures. If we had more time, maybe our group could venture out once more into the city and view it through yet another lens. Call it CSI:DC. There’s a lot of complicated history packed into this city.
And because Washington is an onion, we also had some tears.
— Jill Van Wyke (@JillVanWyke) January 11, 2017
I didn’t see any significant tears from anyone in the room, but some eyes were certainly wet. And to be fair, onions don’t exactly turn you into a faucet, anyway.
Imagine our surprise when the two speakers this morning both used the context of Barack Obama’s farewell speech to note his failures as president. Both expressed regret that he didn’t do more to address (the perpetually intertwined) issues of race and class in this country. After a speech that looked back at his presidency through rose-colored glasses, it was sharp plummet back to earth.
Obama, like the founders of our country, had his flaws. They don’t appear as egregious as the particular bloody historical ones, but no presidency is perfect, and it’s important to keep that in mind over the next couple weeks. Regardless of your opinion on president-elect Trump, it’s probably wise to expect that his presidency will have flaws, too. That’s the nature of the office.
Carr does not have high hopes for the future of this country. In his time with us this morning, he told us to take the time to visit the city, because “you’ll tell your grandchildren you were here when it all fell apart.”
I took a more reassuring message from his lecture. This country is a mess, and it’s always been a mess. We’re still here. We’ll get through this mess, and the next.