Wednesday, November 26, 2014

It's Not About Ferguson. (Rant Warning)

  • If you think African-Americans are lawless thugs, you are mistaken.
  • If you think white Americans don't care about minorities, you are mistaken.
  • If you think racism is a thing of the past, you are mistaken.
  • If you think that only minorities are working to end racism, you are mistaken.
  • If you think police officers are racist pigs, you are mistaken.
  • If you think police departments are color-blind, you are mistaken.

The truth is much more complicated. This nation is full of racists and anti-racist activists. But more than anything, it's full of people who can only form opinions of racism based on their personal experiences. And therein lies the problem.

As a white man of a certain age in America, I experience life in a way different than that of people of color. I don't ask to be treated differently, nor do I expect it. And most often, I'm completely oblivious to it. That doesn't mean it isn't happening.

To my black friends, I say, don't be pissed at me because of it. Don't blame me for it. And don't assume that it's something I'm happy about. More than likely, I don't even notice it.

To my white friends, I say, acknowledge it. Admit it's out there. Try to understand how it must feel for people of color to be treated differently every single day of their lives.

(But, that's not me! I'm not racist. I treat people as equals and expect them to treat me the same way in return.)

Good for you. I do the same. But this world is bigger than just you and me. It's also full of racist idiots that make every day life more difficult for the rest of us.

But together, we can make things better. It starts with treating each other with respect. From there, it's all about communication and perspective.

First up, let's put an end to the "Look at them! That's not me!" cycle of bullshit. Oh, wait. You've never heard of that? Well, that's because I just made up that title. But you'll recognize it when I describe it.

Look at them!
  1. I support People A.
  2. I create/find/share a negative image/story about someone from People B.
  3. I attack all People B and accuse them of the negative thing.
That's not me!
  1. I am someone from People A.
  2. I see a negative image/story about someone from People A.
  3. I deny that I support that negative thing and deny that anyone from People A would do such a thing.
See how that works? It's how I get to judge everyone I don't like as the worst thing possible, yet deny that me or anyone like me is bad at all.

It's bullshit, people. Yes, there are black men who are criminals. Yes, there are racists in the GOP. Yes, there are lazy women on welfare. Yes, there are white men selling meth and Hispanics in the country illegally and single moms with multiple kids by multiple fathers and men who hate and degrade women and women who lie about being sexually assaulted and on and on.

But these people are the exception, not the rule. Most black men are law-abiding citizens. Most GOP voters are not racist. Most women on welfare are stuck in a cycle of poverty they would do anything to get out of. Most white men don't sell meth and most Hispanics in this country are here legally (as citizens or lawful guests) and most men treat women with respect and most women are truthful when they say they have been the victims of sexual assault and on and on.

There are some really terrible people in this world. And there are extremists on both sides of nearly every single issue. And they are the reasons we can't have intelligent, rational discussions anymore. Because we look at the worst of the other side, decide "they" are all like that, and stop listening.

We have to be better than that. And we have to start from our points of commonality, not our points of difference.

Regardless of skin color, people want to be treated with dignity and respect. They want their children housed, fed, and protected. They want well-equipped schools and competent teachers who are respected by their school boards and administration. People want to feel like law enforcement is there to protect them, not to attack or harass them.

And people want a chance to work hard and get ahead in this life. They want a fair shot at earning their way in this world. They want a better life for their children.

And what exactly is the point of this long-winded rant? And how does it relate to Ferguson?

The point is, my friends are an incredibly diverse group of people. And that means that sometimes, one of us will say or do something that offends the other one. And when it happens, I'd like to think we can assume the best of each other, talk out the misunderstanding, and either resolve it or agree to disagree... all with respect. I would like it if we can skip altogether the extremist, bigoted nonsense that otherwise derails every conversation these days.

And it relates to Ferguson because I'm tired of watching otherwise compassionate, intelligent, rational people suddenly become hateful, angry jackasses who see anyone the least bit different as "them" and some sort of enemy. This story will continue to influence conversations about race and equality, and that's okay. But it doesn't have to become a permanent divide.

We're all in this together, friends. Let's spend less time finding reasons to be mad and judgmental and more time being the best people we can be.

P.S. Thanks for sticking with me through this entire rant. I really didn't know what all I wanted to say. But I do feel better getting all of this out of my head and down into words.

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