On Race – American Ideals Still Matter
Truth, Justice and the American Way. We recognize these words as Superman’s tagline but our country does not need heroes right now; we need good, everyday people to stand up for our ideals.
Let’s take these in reverse order: #3 The American Way. Our country’s success the last 244 years is due, more than any other factor, to the ideals expressed in the Declaration of Independence, the preamble to the Constitution, the Gettysburg address and other great documents. I am sure some people can quote chapter and verse the times we failed to live up to those ideals – sometimes in small ways and sometimes in horrible ways. However, tens of millions have flocked to our shores for the chance to worship freely, to build a better life, to participate in government and, often, to sacrifice for the greater good. America has achieved so much good despite our failures. We should keep striving to fulfill our ideals, not allow extremists to invalidate them or toss them aside in favor of their political agenda.
American ideals (opportunity, equality, freedom, justice) are our birthright and the solution to many of today’s problems. We have a moral obligation to make sure they are a living reality for all Americans. That begins with…
#2 Justice. It is hard to participate in the American promise if it seems the government – especially the justice system – is not giving you a fair shake. Resolving injustice has become bizarrely divisive. Justice is not a finite resource. It’s not like if someone with green skin has his rights protected then someone with purple skin has to get the shaft. We should all be in this together. If the State can abuse anyone’s rights, it can abuse everyone’s rights. That is certainly the case when it comes to police searches, no-knock warrants and use of lethal force. Unfortunately, many in the media and politics treat what should be a conversation as political warfare. As they say, the first casualty of war is…
#3 Truth. Justice depends upon truth – especially when there is so much passion, anger and bias in the air. Unfortunately, if you turn the TV to channel C, an expert will tell you with statistical certainty that black people are killed by police in disproportionately high numbers. Over on channel F, another expert will use statistics to categorically make the opposite case. In today’s world, it is too easy to cherry pick statistics or video clips to “prove” any point you want. That leads good people to be either forced into an us-versus-them camp or to walk away from the conversation entirely. Either of those outcomes is bad for America.
This is not Thanos versus the Avengers. It’s not the good guys against the bad guys, despite what “journalists” and social media portray. To solve our society’s problems, we need the majority in the middle to define and support the right systemic solutions. This cannot happen if we are not talking and listening to each other.
The truth is that there is a segment of society is effectively disenfranchised from the American dream. In some parts of our country, the police are viewed more like an occupying force than protectors of our life, liberty and property. Tragedies like George Floyd’s death are the end result of these truths.
It is also true that the root cause of injustice and inequality has little to do with the police. They (and to some extent teachers) bear the burdens of society’s ills – be they historical or the result of misguided government action. Fixing the cultural and procedural problems in the justice system is a good start for all of us –including most cops– but alone it will not deliver Justice or the American Way.
To assure lasting change for the better, we need people with different perspectives to put their heads together and solve embedded problems based on the truth –not my truth versus your truth but our truth, rooted in fact and informed by real experiences. That requires conversations that just aren’t happening. Sometimes the lack of conversation is because organizers only invite people who support their agenda. For others, there are no safe outlets to speak your mind.
Recently, I read an article from BBC about white silence. They said that when white Americans do not speak up about racial injustice, they are complicit in that injustice. I agree we all have an obligation to speak up. Perhaps the BBC noticed that an extraordinarily high percentage of today’s protesters are young white people. What about their parents and grandparents?
Let’s face it, some do not care enough. Others may truly be racist. This is the real world and it is made up of all types, regardless of skin color. In my experience, those folks comprise a small minority. The silent majority are appalled when a George Floyd or Philando Castile or Terence Crutcher gets murdered or abused by the police. Even more so if the crime goes unpunished. There is less willingness than ever to treat such events as isolated incidents.
Still, joining the conversation can be difficult if the cost of participating is “acknowledging” that your life experiences do not matter because you are white and that you are a racist if you do not agree with all aspects of the current dogma. Is it shocking that many people walk away from that conversation?
So what does this all mean? Making the American Way a reality for all Americans is a goal we should all share. There is so much common ground but to paraphrase some movie lines: America ain’t easy. America is advanced citizenship. You’ve gotta want it bad. You gotta be willing to fight for what is right.
The choice is clear: We can all win by fixing problems together or all lose by staying divided. And bad actors here and abroad are always willing to step in when America is divided. Superman is not coming to save the day (especially this November). We’ve got to do it ourselves.