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Letter from the Editor: On Fire Ants, Southern Sentiments and the Pursuit of Peace

When pursuing peace means first disrupting it
C. Zawadi Morris
Fire ants working together Photo: BK Reader and Pinterest

Dear BK Readers,

I was in my early 20s when my great-grandparents passed away.

Big Momma left first. And then my great-grandfather, Bud, one year later. So I had the rare privilege of knowing them both throughout most of my childhood: two crotchety but well-meaning black seniors whose own parents were sharecroppers and whose grandparents were slaves. 

During our trips to visit them Down South, in Mississippi, is when and where I got my first lesson in how not to disturb the peace. Days were spent sitting very still on the front porch or moving slowly about the yard, a peace we made daily with the oppressive heat.

Every 30 minutes or so, a car would drive down the unpaved and lonely road in front of the house. It would honk, and both of my great grandparents would raise their hands in acknowledgement. A daily peace we made with the neighbors. 

Even in town-- which looked like a throwback from an old Western movie-- you'd walk into storefronts with Confederate flags in their windows. My down-South relatives would nod to the white merchants and offer the most pleasant "Hello, how's the family?" And the store owners, with the most pleasant demeanor would answer kindly and ask the same. A daily peace we made with lingering bigotry. 

As I got older, I began to notice more and more in Mississippi the blatant and racist micro-agressions we were forced to make peace with: "We get along just fine with the white folks down here," my great-grandfather told me when I was a teen. 

Left partially paralyzed after he was beaten by the Klan while at church and during Freedom Summer, my great-grandfather Bud, 20 years later, moved about with a walker. Still, he was old-school and of the belief that children should speak only when spoken to. And so my queries about the oddities of Down South agitated him a bit.

"Seems to me, up North is where you've got most of the problems. Don't' go bringing them down here," he said, looking away. And that was that. 

Mississippi, in its sweltering heat and stifled silence, I remembered, was, if anything, complicit in the idea all things had their place. For many Black Southerners, that was their definition of peace: staying in your place. Because in passivity was safety and general security.

letter from the editor, C. Zawadi Morris, voting, peace, justice, 2020 presidential election
A fire anthill in Mississippi
Photo: Pinterest

For example, along Mississippi's red dusty roads, it was common to come across ant hills-- some as tall as 4-feet-high! "Don't ever kick them; leave them be," my older cousin Therry warned us. There are fire ants inside, he said. And if you disturbed them, you'll make them angry and they'll attack, adding, "Some little kids have fallen into them and got bit up so bad they died."

I cringed. That was all I needed to hear to leave well enough alone. I couldn't wait to get back home to Chicago, away from the stay-put-or-elseness of the Down-South.

Still, the lessons stayed with me, and that's how I began to view all disruption of peace and its consequences: like kicking an anthill or poking a sleeping bear. 

But, here's the thing about anthills and what's inside: Sometimes-- no, often times-- disrupting them is not a bad thing. Often times, disruption is necessary, because without shaking up the "peace," guess what? That anthill continues to grow.

letter from the editor, C. Zawadi Morris, voting, peace, justice, 2020 presidential election
Fire An Festival sign in Ashburn, Georgia
Photo: Wikimedia

Here's also the thing: The fiery ants inside aren't the problem. The fiery ants are just being … fiery ants. It is the environment in which they live that shapes their behavior, encourages them to flourish and determines how high they ascend.

My great-grandfather-- beaten down, tired, and tired of being tired-- was wrong about the best pathway to peace. In fact, all the people who believe peace and order are achieved only through fealty, fear, hierarchy and maintaining a status quo ... have got it all wrong. 

On November 4, 2008, a very large anthill began to flourish. And on November 8, 2016, at 4 whopping feet high, that same anthill was kicked in, unleashing an army of red hat-wearing ants!

However, simultaneously and quietly, there were other anthills full of very fiery ants accelerating and growing. Many of those anthills were 5- and 6-ft-tall. And as fate would have it, they've also been kicked.

On November 3, 2020, let's emerge from our 6-ft fortresses en force and march straight to the polls! Through rain, sleet or snow, let nothing deter us. Let's walk on water, if we need to! Let us file in line straight to the voting booths and bite hard (through your masks) to make sure they feel the burn! 

letter from the editor, C. Zawadi Morris, voting, peace, justice, 2020 presidential election
Floating fire ant colonies in the floodwaters in Houston on Aug. 29, 2017.
Photo: Houston Chronicle via Twitter

Then, with this same energy, let us spread out and begin building new anthills, remembering that real peace isn't a trade-off for "good" behavior; that's compliance. Real peace is a personal and deliberate pursuit through the disruption of current structures and a departure of your own self into a place of equity, balance and equilibrium.

Whatever the election results, and for either winning candidate, let's continue erecting new institutional structures that loudly and boldly break the peace.

Most importantly, for either candidate that wins, let's not stop. Let's not fall silent, complacent nor compliant-- remembering these structures are centuries-old-- until we achieve equity, balance. Justice for all.

Because, my fiery friends, without true justice, there will never, ever be true peace.

No justice! No Peace!

No justice! No PEACE!



C. Zawadi Morris, Publisher, BK Reader

C. Zawadi Morris

About the Author: C. Zawadi Morris

C. Zawadi Morris is an award-winning journalist and a Chicago native who moved to Brooklyn in 1997.
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