Listen Up, White America!
The canard that America entered the post-racial phase in its history on January 20, 2009 was employed by those who viewed the inauguration of this nation’s first black president as a ‘get out of jail free’ card for their nakedly racist statements, comments, and actions. Take to any social media platform and you will see this used as justification for the spewing of hateful nonsense and the posting of deplorable imagery. The corporate funded Tea Party movement shouted exhortations of “I want my country back” but, to a man, none could really articulate where their country had gone and who had taken it. Instead, they chose to focus their ire and derision on a Kenyan Muslim extremist who just happened to reside at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. But how can your words be racist when we live in a post-racial America? Short answer: They just are, and we just don’t.
A House Divided Against Itself Cannot Stand
We can discuss at length about the many divisions within our society and how they were expertly deployed. Gays v. Straights. Women v. Men. Blacks v. Whites. Immigrants v. (ahem) Natives. Christians v. [insert non-Christian religion here]. Looking at each of these however, it becomes clear the conflict that has arisen in each returns squarely to the shoulders of the Conservative movement and its leaders. It certainly isn’t the progressive movement that thinks a homosexual couple is less American than themselves and, therefore, unentitled to the same rights, dignity, and respect as every other American. It isn’t the progressive movement that believes a woman should be penalized with lower wages if she enters the workforce rather than stay at home. It isn’t the progressive movement that completely misses the notion of white privilege in our justice system by finding instances of black-on-white crime and lamenting why it isn’t getting as much attention in the media as the several recent occurrences of black men and boys being shot and strangled by a seemingly out of control law enforcement apparatus. And this example could go on and on. Certainly the most prominent division right now centers on how different the American experience is based on something as arbitrary as the color of one’s skin.
The perpetuation of those not like yourself as ‘the other’ is extremely destructive to the notion of trust, respect, and community. Judging an almost entirely peaceful protest movement by the criminal acts of some only serves to let you off the hook from recognizing there is a legitimate basis for the unrest. Rather than retreat from the reality on the ground in Ferguson, and L.A., and Staten Island, and Cleveland, and too many other communities in this nation, white America has to sit up, take notice, and become engaged. Recognize the humanity in those of your community who live daily in fear of what is supposed to be a most trusted and hallowed institution, our justice system. Recognize that their reality is different than your own but that it is no less valid. And most importantly, recognize your own fear of those not like yourself, challenge it, and be a driver of the dialog that can move us forward.
Ryan Tmimitw Jones posted an example of the very open, honest, and real dialog that needs to happen to move forward. The expression of his Caucasian friend’s anxiety brings it out in the open. It shines a light on it. It takes its strength away and leaves both people in the conversation in a better place of understanding.
I was talking race with a friend of mine who happens to be white… I told him that as a black person we often enter situations distrusted and have to do so much more than the next person to establish trust… simply because the color of our skin…
He replied to me..
“Do you know why a lot of non blacks are hesitant around black people? … Because if they were you they would have burned this nation down by now and they don’t know if today is the day that you’ll decide to do it”
First time I was speechless in my adult life..
Hesitancy. Awkwardness. Distrust. These are all actions resultant from fear. There are concrete ways to move away from this fear, however. Become an active participant in your municipal government. Most cities have two council meetings each month. Making your voice and the voices of your neighbors and friends heard will ensure you have a city government that represents and espouses the values of its citizenry. Join the Citizen’s Police Academy. Granting direction to how you wish your police department to conduct themselves goes a long way to protecting the least among you in your community. And always be willing to have discussions with an open heart and open ears. You can’t begin to trust someone until you begin to understand them.
These suggestions will have likely fallen on deaf ears among those who consider themselves conservative. And so I seek the counsel of their faux heroine, Ayn Rand. It was Ms. Rand who espoused the ideal of rational self-interest. Maybe granting empathy and recognizing the humanity in others are concepts too ethereal to seem effective. Then bear this in mind, white America: We will have lost our majority status by the year 2050. If we were unwilling to show compassion and justice to those in the minority now, why should we expect compassion and justice when we no longer maintain the reigns of power?
This article was originally intended to be a guide for each and every one of us, black and white, on how we could move forward in the current toxic and polarizing environment. However, I realize the divide we are currently experiencing is very real and my telling a community with values, traditions, and a culture that is different from my own how to move forward would have been exceedingly condescending and inappropriate. There is much work that needs to be done on both sides of the divide to bring about social justice for each and every one of us. Let that work begin today.