If you’ve read much of this blog in the past, you know I’m not afraid to tackle some serious issues, and I think there are some complex emotions happening in one of our great cities here in America. As I watch the news unfold in Baltimore I’m compelled to write to help shed some light on what I’ve been working on for the last few years. Fear, Loneliness, and Violence all go hand in hand. Like any complicated story, we must have the fortitude to see the stories and try to make sense of what’s going on. It’s too easy to label this situation as a racial issue. There are several conversations that need to happen in Baltimore, AND the rest of the country. Often we sit in our recliners at the end of a long day and watch the news and adopt an attitude of “That will never happen in my town.” But as you look at the national conversation changing, this isn’t just Baltimore. This is Ferguson Missouri, Charleston South Carolina, Long Island New York, and even Denver Colorado. The fabric of our civilization is being challenged, and we need to take some time to look deeper into the problem.
I’ve talked to a lot of police officers in the last year. I start my conversation with, “What do you think about Michael Brown and the Ferguson deal?” And if you have the chance to ask that question to a current law enforcement officer today, get ready to sit down for a while. Emotions are on a level in the police force I’ve not witnessed in my lifetime. The Police are trying diligently to do their jobs to protect and serve. They didn’t get into this line of work because they wanted to harm people. As a matter of fact, every single police officer I’ve talked with has the utmost world view of Valor and Integrity. That’s not to say there aren’t bad eggs in the basket, but the majority of police officers are well-meaning, well intended humans who are doing the job of keeping civilians safe.
So what went wrong?
Why do we keep isolating the bad instead of highlighting the millions of police who are contributing good to communities across our nation?
1.) It’s our fault. We love watching disasters happen on the television, and the Media is re-enforcing our need to see violence. We buy it. They sell it. And for 24 hours a day, we can turn on the television, read about it in the paper or on the internet, and fill our need to watch tragedy. Unfortunately, we’ve lost the capacity to understand news as isolated events. We demand to see the “real” scoop, instead of celebrating the police who are doing good. Don’t believe me? Ask yourself, “What do I do when I drive down the road and see a car wreck on the side of the road?” Like bugs attracted to the light, we embrace it.
2.) Un-intended racial bias. We all have this. If you’re one of the people who say, “Racism is dead. Slaves are free. I’m not a racist.” You’ve bought into a lie. Racism is alive and well in our culture today. (I have two African-African children. Believe me on this.)
We just don’t have a space to freely talk about it. The Politically Correct police have us under their control. If you want to search into your heart and really ask hard questions about personal racism, you’re labeled a racist. And that’s lose your job stuff right there, not to mention your position in your community of friends. We need to have a conversation in all our communities where we can learn about ‘the other,’ embrace the differences in communities, and push ourselves to become a culture that can embrace another’s story.
“Well, Andy I have black friends. I’m not racist.” said a college student to me last week. But if you look at how our culture is constructed, we have some real issues that need to be addressed. Often the schools with the poorest scores are in “those” parts of town. Prisons are filled with young black men at a percentage that makes my mind spin. And when you talk about work force, there’s a lot to be done to equal the white/black divide found in the country clubs for CEO’s.
“But we have a Black President. SEE.” another critic wrote to me on an email. Look, the fact we even have to use that as an argument shows us there’s still a deep divide in our country. We love the Us. vs. Them. narrative because it creates a team where we can feel safe and secure. So we use this presidential argument to evoke some patronizing argument. “SEE, you can be whatever you want to be now.” That’s a cop-out. And if you live in that world, you’re not addressing the core issues that are consuming our country. No matter if you’re white, black, or brown; the “normal” is to group up with your particular brand of people, and live life in divided communities. Just look to the right of your home, or the left of your home, and tell me, How many of us live in a truly diverse neighborhood. Racism is a real deal.
3.) The reality of pain in a community is present. When are we going to stop telling a community how to live, and listen to their pain? I have African-American friends who are afraid to walk down the street at night. I have friends who tell their kids, “Don’t wear a hoodie with the hood up.” because they might be seen as some kind of criminal. And if you will stop for a bit and hear the pain of being stopped for no other reason that your skin color, you’ll see we have a problem.
And don’t get me wrong, this is a difficult task to undertake. When I hear someone else tell me I’ve offended them, the first thing I want to do is justify my position and make sure I’m in the right. We aren’t in that position anymore. We need to sit and listen to others, hear their pain, and make right the times we have done wrong. This isn’t just for white people, this is for every community. Trust is only built on the backs of vulnerability, honesty, and authenticity.
No matter how real or true a situation might be, perception is reality. We desperately need leaders to help us understand how to interpret these problems. Because once we arm up, Us. Vs. Them, violence is sure to follow. The fear that another is going to do something to harm us evokes our fight or flight response, and we’re seeing this play out on both sides in Baltimore today.
It started in Ferguson, but it’s creeping into every metropolitan city in America. The very fabric of our civilization is being pulled and strained, and until we take serious our responsibility to our community, it will continue to divide us. It was Ferguson a year ago, Baltimore today, and I’m telling you, it’s coming to a city near you tomorrow.
So what do we do?
Come back tomorrow, and I’ll give some thoughts concerning action.