As a White guy, I won’t profess to be an authority on something as big as national racial tension, but as an American who takes full responsibility for my citizenship, I feel responsible to speak up. That puts me — and many like me — in a difficult place: I need to speak up, but I’m not sure what to say. So, I’m saying something that I feel is the most important thing any of us need to hear.
Before I go on, some of my words may piss you off. My attitude may piss you off. My ignorance may piss you off. But, I ask you to continue reading. My intent is not to piss anyone off, but to propose a solution. This is a complex, emotionally charged issue. The solutions won’t be quick or easy. Perhaps the most difficult — most important thing we can do is set our anger aside long enough to think and act reasonably.
I had a very difficult time understanding the Black Lives Matter movement, and an even more difficult time taking it seriously. The first time I heard it my brain instinctively thought, “Well…ALL lives matter.” This will make some people immediately angry, but I am being honest so you can understand where I’m coming from.
My introduction to Black Lives Matter was a few angry, unruly Black people waving signs, storming stages, stealing microphones and acting with incredible disrespect. It was impossible for me to take these scenes seriously. I counted it as what I call now: “Black white-noise.” This is my term for all the anger, rage, animosity, attitude and frustration that so many Black communities seem to harbor. This anger has simmered so long in the background of my awareness that it really just faded into white-noise.
In my ignorance, I mistook this animosity for a latent, ancient grudge passed down the generations from a long-dead issue: Slavery. I had this Rodney King attitude of “Can’t we all just get along?” Slavery was over. Our generation’s responsibility is to heal the past and move forward in peace. Holding on to the anger was just holding the Black communities back. I have several Black friends, none of whom were holding any grudges, so this seemed to ratify my viewpoint. Boy was I wrong!
I honestly didn’t think much about the issue until people started getting angry when politicians would say, “ALL lives matter.” At first I was pissed that they stole my line. But mostly I was curious why people would get so angry at what seems like a nice sentiment. I started to understand that when politicians say “ALL lives matter” it’s kind of like when they say, “Our thoughts and prayers are with those” suffering from some natural disaster… Yet they do nothing to actually help those in need. Thoughts and prayers are pretty thoughtless and soulless when you have the ability — and responsibility — to do more.
Saying ALL lives matters is a diplomatic way of seeming like you care so you don’t have to actually…care.
I still didn’t fully understand or appreciate the issue until, thankfully, I watched the National Geographic documentary LA 92. This documentary is one of the best I have ever seen, for starters. It was non-partisan and factual. It was not trying to get me to think or feel anything. But it was so educational that it busted my mind open to an issue going on in our nation that I was shockingly oblivious to. The way Black people and communities are systematically oppressed by our nation is truly shameful. No wonder they’re angry. No wonder they picket. No wonder they riot.
Make America Great Again
I hate to bring this theme up, but it feels poignant to me. What makes America great? As an avid history lover I can’t say America has ever seemed great, to me. The IDEA of America has always been great, but we the people have never managed to make that idea a reality.
The idea of freedom is great, but even some of the Founding Fathers had slaves. The West wasn’t won by equally sharing the land. Armies took this land by the violent removal and genocide of the Native Americans. The idea of equality is great, but minorities including women and non-rich white men have fought tooth and nail for rights many of us take for granted now. The idea of the American dream is great, but it has always been a bold-faced lie. Everyone doesn’t have the same opportunities, and those at the top have always made sure to keep it that way.
So what makes America great? The answer is simple: Us. WE make America great IF we choose to act with greatness. If we embody the ideas of equality, freedom and strength of character, our nation can become great.
But… killing a Black man by grinding his neck into the road with your knee is not great. Enabling your fellow cops to murder George Floyd is not great. It’s deplorable. It’s thoroughly UN-American. Rioting and destroying private businesses is not great. But here’s why I think it’s inevitable:
The killing of Blacks in our nation has started to become Black white-noise…
And this is one of the worst things I can imagine. Black white-noise isn’t just the anger of oppression, anymore. Actual lives are being rolled underneath the carpet by a nation that seems to care less and less. The names of Black men murdered by police are blurring into obscurity. These cycles of murders and riots are a shameful part of our nation’s history because we’ve failed to address the core issues.
How do we turn things around?
At the beginning of this article I said I don’t know what to say. Probably because me talking is the last thing we need right now.
What we need is to listen.
Why are there riots? Because the people aren’t being heard. The oppression and mistreatment of Blacks continues.
How do we show Black people that their lives matter? We start listening to their words, for once. We’ll listen out of respect. And we’ll listen by taking action on their behalf. Rather than waiting for riots or demonstrations, we’ll take the time to shut our own mouth, and let our Black friends, family, and fellow citizens speak.
America never became great because of guns or violence or by putting anyone down. We can become great by lifting each other up. In this time of upheaval, let us listen to each other. Let us hear the spirit behind the anger and violence. Let us help solve each other’s problems. Let us speak of solutions and resolutions. Until we take the time to hear and help each other, we will not be a great nation.
Black lives do matter. They are part of our American family, deserving of the same freedom, equality, and right to happiness as everyone. But let us not lose anymore Black lives by ignoring their words. Freedom is for all, or it is for none. Equality is for all, or it is for none. The only way we will achieve freedom, equality and happiness is with all of us — together.