By Moonlight

words by william defebaugh

artwork by Kader Diaby

 

Every Friday, Atmos editor-in-chief William Defebaugh reflects on the week in climate and culture, sharing stories of insight and inspiration.

words by william defebaugh

artwork by Kader Diaby

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“The biggest challenge we all face is to learn about ourselves and to understand our strengths and weaknesses.”
—Mae C. Jemison

 

In a number of traditions, the moon is associated with the unconscious: the deepest parts of ourselves yet to be known, that dwell beneath the surface. Just as the moon shapes the tides, it is our unconscious beliefs, patterns, and needs that have the strongest influence on our everyday actions both on the individual and collective levels.

 

So far, 2020 has proved itself to be a year of bringing things to light. From white supremacy to government corruption to corroded class and healthcare systems, none of the ugliness we have seen so far this year is new—the masses just chose to be asleep to them. Those who have had the privilege of ignorance are now tasked with the work of dismantling said privilege, which can only happen through relentless self-reflection—which is the most critical and uncomfortable work there is.

 

There has been no shortage of brilliant signage at protests these past few weeks, but among the most poignant I’ve seen was one that read: “Treat racism like COVID-19. Assume you have it, listen to experts about it, don’t spread it, be willing to change your life to end it.” It’s impossible not to see the parallels between these two pandemics, the coronavirus and systemic racism, both of which divide people into two camps: those who are willing to take accountability and do the work of self-excavation, versus those who defensively proclaim exemption from it.

 

Speaking of, President Trump announced this week that his next campaign rally will take place on June 19th in Tulsa, Oklahoma—the date that celebrates the end of slavery in the United States, in the city where the 1921 Black Wall Street massacre occurred. He can claim all he wants to that this was not on purpose, but as Senator Kamala Harris put it in a tweet, “This isn’t just a wink to white supremacists—he’s throwing them a welcome home party.”

 

Another issue that seems to have come more clearly into light for many this year is the climate crisis—both in its rapid approach and our potential to fight it. A recent Yale study found that Americans were no less concerned by climate change because of the pandemic (arguably caused by the former), and fallen emissions in the spring (that in many places are now back to pre-pandemic levels) revealed the potential recovery that slowing down can yield.

 

As Mary Heglar underlines in her recent piece for the Huffington Post, we need to be looking at all of these crises simultaneously—largely because the climate crisis makes every other crisis worse, including the oppression of Black communities who it affects “first and worst.” As she writes, “Climate change is not the Great Equalizer. It is the Great Multiplier.”

 

Humanity’s fascination with the moon is ancient, holding not just an unconscious association but an aspirational one as well (“shooting the moon”). This fixation reached somewhat of a pinnacle with the lunar landing of 1969, resulting in a paradigm shift: suddenly the unreachable was no longer out of our grasp. Similarly, in order to dismantle white supremacy and the climate crisis, we must start by dismantling the illusion that they are insurmountable. Perhaps what has come to light above all else this year is our potential. As Mae C. Jemison, the first Black astronaut to travel into space alluded to, our task is to confront not only our weaknesses, but our strengths as well—including what we are capable of achieving when we commit to it.

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