ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:
In order to understand the widespread anger over Michael Brown's killing in Ferguson, Missouri, and the grand jury's decision this week, it's important to remember history - both recent and distant. Literature helps us reach into those cultural archives. For our series This Week's Must Read, here is Syreeta McFadden.
SYREETA MCFADDEN: Since George Zimmerman was found not guilty of killing Trayvon Martin, I've been repeating these words by the poet Audre Lorde like a prayer. (Reading) For those of us, she writes, who were imprinted with fear like a faint line in the center of our foreheads, learning to be afraid with our mother's milk, for all of us, this instant and this triumph, we were never meant to survive.
Each time I reread it, the chaos and confusion I feel is cleared away. These lines are clean and defiant. They name our aches, our hurts, the paradoxes of our living, and they slay that demon that dogs our days, fear. By the poem's end, I'm washed clean. It's a blessing and a baptism and a challenge to me to engage a world that would seem to deny my life.
I needed it again when the news came of the shooting death of Michael Brown and then again this week. The poem is meant to break spells and fevers. That line, we were never meant to survive, warns us of difficulties that will come. I think of this poem when I see photos of black millennials protesting police brutality. Fire and smoke envelope them as they face the police force of what was once an inconsequential town in the middle of America.
Lorde ends her poem with these lines (reading) and when we speak we are afraid our words will not be heard, nor welcome, but when we are silent we are still afraid. So it is better to speak, remembering we were never meant to survive.
This is a poem fitting for these times.
SHAPIRO: The poem is "A Litany For Survival" by Audre Lorde. It was recommended by Syreeta McFadden, who writes for The Guardian.
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