A Shared Challenge for Americans

In recent days, what with the Global Pandemic apparently not being enough, we’ve had to confront the elephant in the room: the thing embedded in our culture and our consciousness that has no proper name, but has been called variously– bigotry, prejudice and more recently, just plain racism. I am not a big fan of any of these terms, as I don’t think anyone can adequately define them beyond some vague reference to “You don’t like me because I’m not like you”. But that is sort of the crux of it, isn’t it? Because, in the end, we always struggle with the concept of “the other”. It’s not like we can read people’s minds, or their intentions– let alone know their hearts. And so, we take refuge in the ways that we are similar; perhaps there is some comfort in knowing that “Hey that person feels like I do about (fill in the blank). Or, “They have the same worries and concerns, and hopes and dreams”.

Conversely, if we are unable to make those connections, we may feel fear, or at least nervousness. Because of this we have all sorts of pop culture references, such as “Islamaphobia, or homophobia” as a single word reference to describe someone who is nervous or fearful of Muslims or gays, for these 2 particular examples.

In the case of the Afro-Americans (a term that seems puzzling, since the reference to a former continent doesn’t really seem instructive, but I like the term “blacks” even less since it so sweeping in a fairly inaccurate way), we can’t seem to decide if the problem is that they are hated, or feared, or have cause to be fearful, or a combination of all 3. I think hate is an overused word, and may apply in some cases, but in my opinion (and it’s just an opinion), it doesn’t apply as often as certainly was the case in much of the previous 2 centuries). The fear component remains, on both sides of the divide, though. I’ll admit I have been fearful walking thru Detroit late at night when I couldn’t remember where I parked my car. In my defense, it was a general fear and I have certainly been fearful in situations where I was fearful of other “white” folks, specifically. Our fear stems from concern for personal safety, or fear for our family or friends. It’s not necessarily a character defect. Sometimes it’s just from lack of information.

Complicate this with the fact that, statistically, Afro-Americans are a group that struggles with economic equality, fair treatment by police, and in a related way, greater incidence of criminal activity, and a higher incidence of broken families, more stressful and unrewarding jobs, poorer education, etc. These are all important considerations, and blaming this person or that person is not the way to solve those problems.

For example, if an Afro-American points a finger at “white people” and says “You’re all racists!”, they would be painting whites with the same broad brush that they wish not to be painted with themselves.

You see the problem. One could go back and forth like that, ad nauseum, until fatigue and exhaustion would beg of you to look at and discuss anything else. And that kind of folding of one’s arms and dismissing the “other party” in no way leads to a solution.

The real surprise is that anyone thinks that it does. Wouldn’t it be more constructive to gather people from all segments of the population to discuss ways in which all of us could get fair treatment and assistance in ways most suited to us INDIVIDUALLY ? In the end, saying that we need to do for “this group” or “that ethnicity” or “those religious folks” leads us back into the never ending cycle of identity politics. We can’t free ourselves from this concern with “otherness” until we de-emphasize the idiosyncratic ways in which we are different.

Getting wrapped up in doing studies as to whether Red Haired people are being denied time in the sun, or tall people are being forced to crouch when going thru doorways will never lead us anywhere useful. Okay, I know those are absurd examples. My point is, how can we get to the point where people say “So what?” to skin color if we keep emphasizing it in all of our discussions? Shouldn’t we be able to look past that to see which “individuals” need help? Are we so caught up in demographics that we’re not willing to do the homework necessary to see who is in a situation demanding our care and compassion? There are many people of various cultures, and races, and religions that are finding a successful path thru life, and many in every category who are struggling.

Let’s not make the assumption that if I’m a member of some group, or category, or race, or religion that I’m necessarily doing well, or poorly. To me, that is just lazy. But we might look closer and find that there are families or whole neighborhoods, consisting of a wide range of folks, who all are struggling, and then we might find a solution that fits them, with the knowledge that sometimes that solution will require economic assistance.

We know that there are times when catastrophic occurrences take precedence over identity concerns. When the floodwaters hit Midland, Mi, did we have to apply some sort of litmus test in order to determine who deserved aid? So why are we so determined to sort people by color, or religion, or other rather superficial differences ? At least, those differences WOULD be more superficial, if we stopped pointing fingers and saying things like “you’re a racist” or “you’re playing the victim” or “you’re not trying to fit in” or “you’re excluding me because of (fill in the blank).

If we’re trying to get past that, we’re not going to get past it by name calling. That is what we’re trying to end, right? Treat every human as an individual. Not as a meaningless cipher in a dehumanizing stereotype.

This piece isn’t meant to be an attack on any one; it’s more of a clarification of what one (admittedly “white”) person thinks. And I can’t say I care for that word either, but I suppose we may be stuck with it.

There are lots of good signs, one of which, the partnering of police with those in a neighborhood, is the right idea for the right time. I would hope that rather than try to match skin color demographics, we might try to match geographical backgrounds. If I grew up in a neighborhood, and lived there, or have relatives living there, it seems to me that then there is a vested interest in the “well-being of all”. Certainly, it would mean training policeman to be sure that having “each other’s back” doesn’t mean “covering for them”, but only means protecting them from harm, and, when necessary, protecting them from over-reaction. Letting policemen know that “good faith” intervention will be supported, accepted, AND appreciated by other policemen needs to become the standard.

I would say, mildly, that even if the people who were advocating “defunding the police” were having their meaning twisted, that it was an incendiary phrase, and it ought to be understood that many fair-minded people would find it counter-productive. Spending money on the wrong programs is something we’d all like to avoid. But it’s hard to make a case that spending less on policemen will make everyone feel safer.

Either we think we need to be protected, or we don’t. But I’m pretty sure, most everyone agrees that we need to be protected. And I would go a step further; we would probably concur that at times we need to have our behavior “throttled”, for the good of the community. While keeping in mind, that good training, and GOOD VETTING during the hiring process, are necessary to prevent abuses.

Having said that, I think it’s important to remember that unless you don’t think police are needed at all, SOMEONE has to volunteer to do that job. So if we do OUR job, of ensuring there is appropriate applicant screening, and officer training, then we ought to be appreciative of the ones who end up doing the needed, often thankless, work of preserving the law and protecting ALL the population.

It’s right to be horrified that, in apprehending a person, any person, that there is not proper care taken to prevent unnecessary injury, or in this case, death. I’ll let the courts make the determination, as every one is entitled to a jury trial for such a serious offence. I think I know how they will find the defendants, in the case of the death of George Floyd, but it doesn’t matter what I think. It will be up to the court, the jury and the judge to determine.

But let’s stipulate, for the moment, that George Floyd was murdered, and that 2nd degree murder is the appropriate charge. That may well be the case– that’s certainly how it looks, but it isn’t my call. And that is my point, really, since lynching, is by definition, when a mob, under the pretext of administering justice without trial, carries out a sentence. Admittedly, those that rioted did not kill any one, but I can’t defend actions that were petty, destructive and injurious, as being justified. And I would hope any one would think long and hard, about whether that is the world they want to live in, or the way they would like George Floyd to be remembered: As someone whose death spawned the burning and looting of businesses, or as someone who inspired real discussion and real change, long over due, to the way our society polices and protects its citizenry.

2 thoughts on “A Shared Challenge for Americans

  1. Enjoyable reaing Mark. Your Dad and Grammie would be proud of you following the family tradition of communicative writing. We would get a smile from Pop and a “Me too!”. I know my Dad and they are reading on the Big Internet! Free, of course!


    • thanks Chris, knowing that someday I could get the Big Internet Free, defrays a lot of my fear of death! Hope you are settling in just nicely in your new digs. Please extend a big friendly virtual hug to Trish for me too! -Cuz Mark


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