The Earth, the City, and the Hidden Narrative of Race by Carl Anthony is officially launched in the world today, and I am holding a copy in my hand at last. Over a period of 10+ years I collaborated with Carl to help midwife his legacy book into being, one of the most meaningful editorial projects I have worked on.
Carl is an African-American architect, regional planner, and environmental justice pioneer. A lifelong activist and an insatiable learner, he has worked full-on for change while connecting the dots of history, urban policy, cosmology, race, identity, and his unique and fascinating lived experiences. Carl has much insight to share.
Some months back as the manuscript was nearly finalized, we looked back on the book-writing journey. An edited version follows of his reflections.
Carl Anthony: Throughout my life, and in writing my book The Earth, the City, and the Hidden Narrative of Race, I have been exploring how to live and be in this ever-changing world. As an African American, I have both the benefit and the liability of being rooted in a richly layered yet challenging history, much of which has been buried from view. I have been trying to uncover that history, bring visibility to things that had been hidden, and make sense of parts of myself that had been not been within my awareness.
As a boy growing up, I was deeply impressed by how William Penn had laid out the parks and streets and trees in my home town of Philadelphia. Then as I grew older I added to my understanding of William Penn the knowledge that he had kept slaves and his father had become enormously rich as a consequence of the slave trade. I needed to take the original story and fill in the gaps and place it in a larger context that had been hidden from my view.
I think the question is, whoever you are, can you drill down to the source? To understand your origins is a way of understanding and being present to who you are now.
I feel that one of my most important contributions as an African American has been to hold the whole story of the journey of African Americans—from the origins of humanity to the sustainability revolution—in a single story.
Alongside all the things that are in a constant state of change and flux, the universe is a system that provides “text without context,” as Thomas Berry said. It is changing, although not in a relative sense. The North Star will be in the north long after I am gone. Getting my bearings in this larger framework of the universe has given me something to work with.
To explore one’s origins isn’t so much about trying to see how different you are or how unique your experience has been. It is more about, as James Baldwin said, “Know from whence you came, and there is no limit to where you can go.”
A process of continual change is happening all the time. The question is, how and when do we wake up to it, and how do we adjust to it?
Both understanding the past and looking to the future are useful aids for navigating the present. A constant effort to reach within and find guiding principles will serve us well as we continue to navigate these currents of change.