Author James Baldwin famously wrote: “Not everything that is faced can be changed, but nothing can be changed until it is faced.”
In that spirit, the town Human Rights Commission invited poet-activist DiDi Delgado to help celebrate Black Lives Matter Day on Monday, July 13. At its height, 88 attended.
The June 8 proclamation from the no-longer-100-percent-white board condemned racism, recognized Juneteenth and noted steps the town is taking to improve training.
In a virtual event titled “Black Joy and What it is to be Black in America," Delgado riffed about racism in a prerecorded address. She introduced her jazzy challenge live, a noisy child nearby, remembering her first connection to Arlington, a call to her after a Black Lives Matter banner was vandalized at First Parish in 2015.
Her memory led to a discussion about how to channel anger. “Slavery ended so long ago … what has taken so long?”
Born in 1983, Delgado trained her discursive speaking style on why the Black Lives Matter movement makes people uncomfortable. “We don't talk about biases,” she said. We avoid those issues.
Issues that “taken so long” include the slow removal of “whites-only” signs and the pace of change following the 1964 Civil Rights Act.
“Whether signs are there or not, the system hasn't changed,” she said. “We need to follow up the symbolism with actual change …. We’ve let this inequity build, but we just talk about it.”
A poet who heads the Society of Urban Poetry (S.O.U.P.) who recently launched speaker’s bureau and workshop-development called “The DiDi Delgado Experience,” she spoke in asides: “I know it's not fun seeing another black queer. Doesn’t mean I’m the devil.”
To respond to racism, she offered two challenges: “Things have to get worse before they get better,” and “white people have no idea what they are doing.”
Connecting to these views requires no rational exercise; it means joining in her riff.
In choosing to “get worse” first, she cited 19th-century antislavery activist Frederick Douglass, who called for persistent agitation.
But appeared to beyond Douglass: Hers is “not a message of reform …. We have to start over.”
To illustrate her view of white cluelessness, she cited the discussion of reparations, making fun of questions she says whites ask: “How much money? Do you have a receipt?”
Read further examples of her sarcastic views >> This includes “10 Ways to Pay if You're a Broke-Ass White Person.”
Her view of police included some sympathy. Even officers are “sick of all they have to do, asking, 'Why do we have to show up for everything?' Cops are not mental health experts.”
The former leader of Black Lives Matter in Cambridge urged her audience to “push past the uncomfortableness.” Do so, she said, by following local black organizers. “Turn passion and pain into something sustainable.”
Growing up cash-poor in single-parent household, she has emerged as an adult to be a creative fund-raiser. She says she has drawn almost $1million for high school education after a trip to Abu Dhabi.
A link on her website titled “#DONEFORDIDI” provides positive examples, including “providing monthly stipends to organizers of $200 - $300 to provide a small cushion to their own footing.”
Delgado spoke live before and after the selection from a prerecorded speech she gave to a Unitarian Universalist church audience in Summit, N.J., a year ago.
Sharon Grossman, cochair of the Human Rights Commission, was asked whether Delgardo was paid, and she responded July 17 that she donated her time.
One question from this white guy who tries not to be clueless, but no doubt is sometimes: In this presentation, “Where was the joy?”
This viewpoint was published Friday, July 17, 2020.