Song 08 - The Shadows. Click to explore themes and stories relating to this song.

What was it like to have a racial justice awakening in 2020?

Stories and Remembrances


We hatched the initial vision of this album project in the spring of 2020, at which point we thought it would be a project centered on people’s experience of the global-historic event of the pandemic. But as the months of the year rolled on, it became apparent to us that the significant events of this extraordinary year — all of which were, indeed, in some ways colored by coronavirus — sprawled out beyond the scope of the pandemic itself. So it became apparent to us that, in order to truly reflect our collective experience of this time, this project may need to expand in scope as well. (click to continue reading)

Given that aim, when we started our research and began asking questions about people’s experience of the year, we kept the questions as open-ended as possible. Questions like:

“What were your top three most significant experiences of 2020?” 
“What were the sources of your greatest hardships and greatest joys in 2020?”
“What were some things you learned about the world or about yourself in 2020?”

These questions surfaced answers from many people in our community that revealed their personal experience with the racial justice awakening that we witnessed across the nation in the wake of the murder of George Floyd.

People shared with us how they became more aware, or aware for the first time, of the inequities experienced by people in nearly every facet of our society that are directly mapped to race — like in policing and public safety, income and wealth, clean air and water, healthcare, education, voting, banking, housing … the list is long.

People shared with us how they felt compelled more than ever before to begin, or to dive deeper into, an examination of the causes of those inequities; and that they learned just how deeply embedded each of them is in the scaffolds around which our entire society is constructed.

… About how the world-historic wealth of this country was built upon stolen land, and upon the backs of people’s whose lives, labor, and freedom were stolen. 

… About how we as a nation have never made amends or reparations for those original sins.

… About how those of us who live in white skin benefit from the hierarchy that those structures have created and reinforced since the founding of the country. 

… About how we as individuals have harbored racist ideas — often without even realizing that’s what we were doing — that have served to give cover to, excuse, and support the racist structures that perpetuate injustice.

… About how when we deny that we, as individuals, have a responsibility to examine our own racism, we provide exactly the food that keeps injustice alive and makes it grow. That denial of our own racism preserves a status quo that is oppressive of, harmful to, and often violent toward entire groups of people. 

… And about how our refusal to look at the shameful parts of our history,
our unwillingness to inspect the dark corners of our own minds,
our failure to dismantle the systems that ensnare and oppress so many people,
is a surefire way to ensure the eventual demise of our society itself. 

Because … “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.” — Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Or, like Dr. Ibram X. Kendi describes in his transformational book How To Be an Antiracist: racism is a stage 4 metastatic cancer living in the body of our society. We can choose to deny that it exists; but if we do, we will witness the destruction it will bring to every part of our body politic. It will take us down if we don’t fight like hell to take it down first. 

And … as we heard from people in our story collection (as well as learned from our own personal experience) … this is not easy work. Eradicating racism in ourselves and in our society requires heaping helpings of …
… humility … to examine where and how we’ve gotten it wrong,
… curiosity … to look beyond our own experience, 
… openness … to listen to those who have been engaged in this work for a long time,
… compassion … to take on our neighbor’s plight as our own,
… willingness … to do the work to change ourselves and our world
… persistence … to keep doing those things over and over and over again, until the work is done.

And imagine … the beauty, prosperity, and peace that we will all get to enjoy
when a critical mass of us become humble, curious, open, compassionate, willing, and persistent enough
to create a just world. 
That’s a vision worth doing the work for. 


There is one quote from our story collection that spurred the idea behind the central metaphor of this song:
“I still have to clear out all my racist cobwebs that are still hiding in my brain’s shadows.” 

Yes. Me, too.

I own up to the fact that I should have realized it years ago,
but knowing now where the shadows exist, and just how dark they are …
… it’s way past time to flood this place with light.  

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Nobody ever comes down here
The dust has collected for four hundred years
Dark rooms make the foundation of this house
Yeah, they were built by someone else
But all the contents are ours
Because we live here now (click to continue reading)

Old ships in bottles keep the score
Which one carried your ancestors and predestined your course?
Redacted pages, the record of our collective shame
Just names and names and names
Rubbed out of their early graves
Now ready fuel for the flames

The shadows
Conceal the webs
Spun to hold captives
And bleed them to death
They still hang from every scaffold of american life
I’ve given them cover in the corners
Of my own mind
The shadows keep me blind
Time to flood this place with light

Nothing is new here under this sun
What’s illuminated takes the breath out of my lungs
I’ve been far too comfortable living in the lavish home
Built upon these bones
This edifice has to go
Once you know you can’t unknow

The shadows
Conceal the webs
Spun to hold captives
And bleed them to death
They still hang from every scaffold of american life
I’ve given them cover in the corners
Of my own mind
The shadows keep me blind
My beating heart cannot abide it
I am so late to get right-sided
Time to flood this place with light

words and music by Shannon Curtis
published by Shannon K (ASCAP)
all rights reserved; lyrics reprinted by permission

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If you have a story to share about having a racial justice awakening in 2020, please send it to Jamie at jamie@misfitstars.com.

  • georgia s.
    I realized that I simply can’t call the cops. I haven’t yet figured out a good alternative — and I welcome any suggestions — but I’m not willing to risk my neighbors’ lives, even when they’re doing something annoying or suspect. (And I say this as someone who used to call in noise complaints practically… Continue reading georgia s.
  • anonymous
    I knew prior to 2020 that racism existed, but didn’t know corruption was so built into the police unions, and what repercussions that continues to have. I wonder what will happen — if reform is possible. I knew history was worse than I had a concept of here in the U.S., but now I am… Continue reading anonymous
  • brittany r.
    I had no idea about systemic racism prior to 2020, and have really tried to dive into learning about how our system is set up to disenfranchise the BIPOC community. I also didn’t realize how the 1994 Crime Bill fed the mass incarceration crisis. What I’ve learned makes me ill. There’s a lot I didn’t… Continue reading brittany r.
  • chris v.
    2020 was not so much a racial justice awakening for me as reaching a turning point: the realization that awareness and talk are meaningless in solving the problem, and real world actions small and large are what will effect substantive change.
  • bree c.
    I don’t think a single black or brown person experienced an awakening. It has ALWAYS been terrible, and wht people were not listening. Way too much of “Oh, I don’t see color. I love everyone equally!” while blithely ignoring the plethora of ways we benefit from systemic racism. What’s different this year? Grave injustice is… Continue reading bree c.
  • catherine k.
    This year really brought into very sharp focus the amount of privilege I have had in my life, and the understanding that I wanted to do more work around helping to balance the scales.
  • marilyn a.
    After one of the many publicized BLM incidents (before George Floyd), I read a Facebook post written by an African American college professor in Boston describing how gut-wrenchingly terrified he was when he was for no reason suddenly surrounded by police cars as he was walking into a taco place for lunch. It was brilliantly… Continue reading marilyn a.
  • alfredo g.
    Being from another country, I have always been fascinated by the hypocrisy in the U.S. society at large. People debate if saying Black or African-American is the correct way, and nobody notices that they don’t really care because one way or the other the racism is always there. Being politically correct in the language doesn’t… Continue reading alfredo g.
  • dan a.
    For me, 2020 made me think harder about the abolitionist movement and what it means to fight for abolition. I’ve always been anti-police (well at least a few decades) and I needed to better understand how we create a world in which we abolish them, prisons, the military, and these systems that uphold them. It… Continue reading dan a.
  • patricia b.
    The vitriol I saw coming from the conservative right did more than anything before to solidify my view that racism is real, systemic, evil, and needs to be dealt with now. The summer’s civil unrest was in my own backyard, so to speak. I had zero issues with the protestors, but saw white privilege co-opt… Continue reading patricia b.
  • kathryn m.
    2020 gave me a hard look at how white liberals doing anti-racist work ran with certain ideas that my community and neighbors — who are majority black — are never going to be up for. Community / neighborhood policing is not an option in a neighborhood that has gang culture in certain areas, and they… Continue reading kathryn m.
  • lyssa g.
    Every day my empathy dives deeper and deeper. I’m committed to practicing unbiased kindness and love. I hope my words and service can move others into a better existence, and to really know and trust that they’re loved … especially by me.  I don’t have any answers. But I want to know what I can do.
  • rachel r.
    I have been watching all kinds of movies and documentaries on racial issues, heroes, hardships, horror. I feel compelled to educate myself as those who are affected DIRECTLY haven’t had a choice in how any of this goes.