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Dealing with racism in America
I have been consistently watching the news about the protests and riots. I watch different news channels to make sure I get different perspectives. I monitor Facebook and Twitter to see what people are saying about the murder of George Floyd and about the events unfolding before our eyes. This past weekend, I read the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution and Martin Luther King Jr.’s speech, “I have a Dream.” I read these three documents every year, usually on the Fourth of July, but sometimes more often, if I feel I need to feel grounded again on what I believe it means to be an American. I think they best represent what I believe and how I feel.
I was very angry, disappointed, embarrassed and depressed last week. Those feelings have not subsided, but I have them more under control. I also believe in American exceptionalism or at least in that vision even though we are not, and never have been, anywhere near that vision when it comes to equality. But I refuse to let that fact extinguish my hope that we can do better. Be better. In fact, I think it is our collective responsibility to make sure that we are better.
The killing of George Floyd was one of the most horrible things that I have ever seen. The police officers involved must be held responsible for their actions and inactions. But this is bigger than what happened in Minneapolis. It’s a lot bigger.
As the news of the protests and the rioting is unfolding, the story has started to change. The rioting has taken center stage, and we have started to assign blame for the violence and looting. It’s ANTIFA. It’s white supremacists. It’s local folks just taking advantage of the situation. It’s the over aggressive actions of the police. I think it’s probably all these groups, and it is wrong.
I don’t condone violence, the burning down of buildings or looting. The people engaged in that kind of activity need to be held accountable, too. However, I understand how we got to this point and keep getting to this point.
We are too satisfied when we perceive things are going smoothly. We don’t want to rock the boat in calm waters. We accept that our educational system is funded in a way that disproportionately disadvantages children of color. But we don't demand changes.
We see the statistics that show black males are more likely to be arrested, more likely to be convicted, and more likely to be incarcerated for the same crimes as white males. We sarcastically joke about being pulled over for driving while black.
We fail to call out the person who accuses the black kid of “acting white” when they are succeeding in school or have too many white friends.
We elect the same people we have been electing for years…the ones who have failed to make anything better. We invent terms like “post-racial America.” There is no post-racial America.
And we look at the floor when the black guy gets on the elevator or cross the street when we see black teens coming our way. We often don’t check ourselves and recognize the reaction for what it is. Implicit bias. We don’t look them in the eye and offer a warm greeting.
When people speak out or protest in peaceful ways, we tell them to shut up, or we dismiss them and justify it by saying that things are getting better.
And it simmers. The water is always boiling just below the surface, and we all know it. And we accept it until something horrible happens, like the killing of George Floyd. Then the protests start, usually peacefully in the beginning. But that gives others the platform to riot, loot and burn down our buildings.
We all need to understand this dynamic or it is going to happen again. And because we do or should understand these things, we are all responsible for what is happening in our country right now. It is not enough to blame and hold accountable a few police officers. It’s not enough to hold rioters accountable. These things need to be done, but alone, this will not adequately address the problem.
Recently, I had a few conversations about the progress this country seemed to be making in the 1950s and 1960s. But somehow, we became satisfied or complacent. We dropped the ball.
I also saw that a number of my black friends posted things acknowledging their non-black friends as “allies.” Their posts were in response to watching protesters on the news and recognizing that, in many of the protests, the groups were very diverse. That makes me hopeful and I appreciate the sentiment, but I don’t like the term.
On April 4, 1968, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated. During the news coverage, a white reporter pointed his microphone toward a local black leader and asked, "When our leader [John F. Kennedy] was killed several years ago, his widow held us together. Who's going to control your people?"
This can’t be. The term “ally” makes it seem like this is a black issue and that non-black people are secondary helpers in the fight for social justice. Black and brown people clearly bear the burden of racial injustice in this country, and I can’t, as a white man, pretend that I fully understand what that experience is like. But I do understand that this can’t be a black issue with others as helpers. It’s an American issue. When any group’s right to the promises upon which this country founded is threatened, it is a threat to all of us. It is a threat to democracy. We all have the responsibility to make sure those promises are fulfilled for everyone, but it won’t happen unless all of us are committed to making it happen.
It means changing laws and rules and systems. But at the end of the day, people implement those things. It’s also about changing hearts and minds.
This is about a longstanding promise not fulfilled. It’s not a black, Asian, white or Hispanic problem. It’s an American problem. And we need to wake up and realize that. If one group’s justice and freedom is threatened or not delivered, we are all at risk. That’s the bottom line.
So, I refuse to be distracted and I will not be placated by justice in just this individual case. I will not allow myself or others around me to become satisfied, complacent or comfortable until we effectively deal with this issue in America – once and for all. I hope you won't either.
It’s overdue.Back to News
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