I wasn’t quite sure what to title this post. It’s a rare foray for me into current events outside of sports. But the simplicity of it struck me and I thought, really, who could argue against that. The title is meant to be both pointed and vague. Interesting I would guess BOTH the citizenry and the police would agree with that assessment.
And it got me to thinking how it feels like every single issue requires us to take sides based on not wanting to be on the same side as someone else. We see Orlando as either a terrorist attack or a gun control problem. And we see it based on who’s on our side. Crazy thought, can’t it be both? This side-taking seems to be the wash, rinse, repeat of American discourse… I mean, we don’t even know the issue or the argument, but if THAT person feels that way, surely I must be on the other side. On an episode of Real Time with Bill Maher, Chris Matthew nailed it:
One of the problems we’ve got in this country is the willingness to take sides on a fight like this without knowing what the hell happened… everyone goes right to their battle stations…
Sometimes I agree with Chris, often times I don’t. He makes a great point here and the beauty of it is you don’t need to even know what he is talking about to see the truth in what he says.
If you’ll allow me, a personal story.
A few summers ago, I wrote a blog about being pulled over and placed in jail for an outstanding bench warrant. To be clear, the bench warrant was bullshit because the original citation was bullshit. While it turned out to be the makings for a funny story, I honestly can’t help but think how those situations could have been different if I was not white. I received the original citation while driving in Tahoe at night on my way back from Gar Woods to my place at Heavenly. It was in winter, it was cold, but, as is my want, I had the windows down in my Jeep because I love the fresh air. I was driving the speed limit, not changing lanes, and not remotely impaired. A Nevada trooper pulled me over claiming he ran my plate and it came up expired. Despite current tags on the plate and having current registration with me, I still received a fix it ticket. I honestly didn’t (and still don’t) believe for a second the trooper, and felt he was fishing and using a pretense thinking I may have been under the influence. When clearly I wasn’t, and when I communicated politely and assertively, i was given the “fix it” ticket. Had I not been white, I would have 100% thought I was being pulled over for Driving While Black, or Hispanic or insert minority. And I think I would have been totally justified in feeling that way.
The arrest, 3 years later, while speeding through the night in eastern Nevada, also makes me question how things could have been different. Again, you can read the blog for details… I was definitely speeding and deserved the ticket. But how I was treated, having an outstanding “bench warrant,” and driving with two other recent Cal grads, and as I have joked, in a Jeep that even with the top off clearly smelled like I was transporting a Reggae band, makes me wonder how things could have been different. In fairness, I may have had the luck of being pulled over by the coolest state trooper ever, and he did seem like a good guy. But still. I’d have to be really naive to think if I was black or Hispanic that would have played out exactly the same.
Given the events of the last few weeks, I’ve found myself wanting to talk about #BlackLivesMatter, police killings, affecting change… But, to be blunt, it’s a very difficult topic for a white guy to bring a nuanced outlook to. I see hypocrisy (I think we’re all hypocrites), for instance do ALL #BlackLivesMatter? IE why don’t we hear the same volume of outcry from the movement about what is going on in Chicago, where already this year 350 – mainly African Americans – have been murdered? (by the way, the boy at :30 in the below video, Zarriel Trotter, was shot in the back in March, caught in crossfire of a gun fight in Chicago). But on the other hand, I tell myself, hey just because someone doesn’t address EVERYTHING, doesn’t mean they can’t address SOMETHING. I see lots of yelling, and in trying to wrap my head around things, I’ve been called a racist because I don’t toe the line 100%, and that makes it REALLY hard to have a conversation. So that’s what this post is about. But stick with me for a moment more so I can set this up.
I’ve been thinking a lot about how we talk
to with each other about things that are important to us. How do we reach consensus on things that seem fairly obvious we should be in agreement? I have to be honest, I try very hard not wading into tough social issues online because does it ever change anything? I think, just because I have a thought doesn’t mean I have to share it with everyone. Being a relatively public figure (in my limited circles) to a degree, I always worry that people I like and who bring a lot to my life, may be offended and look at me differently, and I hate to rock the boat so what’s the point. But in so doing, I think I am doing us all a disservice and frankly I’m not giving those friends the respect they deserve; that they can realize I may think differently than they do and we can still be friends. We need to be able to talk honestly with each other, not be afraid to share our thinking and – and this is the important part – be willing to absorb what other people say and possibly have that better inform how we see things.
I have many, many friends who disagree with me on what we might consider core philosophies, that in this day and age people seem to think are deal breakers. And I’ll have people say “How can you be friends with that person…” Yet we’re still not just friends, we’re good friends. One example is gay marriage. Of course I believe in gay marriage. I think what just Kennedy wrote was one of the most beautiful writings ever from the Supreme Court:
No union is more profound than marriage, for it embodies the highest ideals of love, fidelity, devotion, sacrifice, and family. In forming a marital union, two people become something greater than once they were. As some of the petitioners in these cases demonstrate, marriage embodies a love that may endure even past death. It would misunderstand these men and women to say they disrespect the idea of marriage. Their plea is that they do respect it, respect it so deeply that they seek to find its fulfillment for themselves. Their hope is not to be condemned to live in loneliness, excluded from one of civilization’s oldest institutions. They ask for equal dignity in the eyes of the law. The Constitution grants them that right.
So given that, you might think that would be a deal breaker for me, but it’s not. I understand how some people feel about this, I appreciate that more people are coming to my side, but I also understand that with some people they approach it from a different perspective. Usually they’re older, usually more religious, but you know, not only does it do me no good to push those people out of my life, or to call them names, or cast aspersions on their character… No, I hope that by being a part of each others’ lives they’ll eventually come to my understanding. This may sound weird, but I don’t do it for my benefit, I do it because I want THEM to embrace it, because I know what great people they are. And then, also, selfishly, these good people add more to my life than dismissing them for this issue would be worth. I would be the loser.
So that brings me to #BlackLivesMatter and the ongoing, and intensifying, of the “debate” around police killings. Peggy Noonan wrote a wonderful column on this in Saturday’s Wall Street Journal. I could basically quote the entire article, so instead of doing that, I’ll just ask you to read it now… Go ahead, I’ll give you a couple of minutes…. OK, I lied, I’ll post this part:
He asked his fellow senators to “recognize that just because you do not feel the pain . . . does not mean it does not exist.” Ignoring the struggles of others “does not make them disappear. It simply leaves you blind and the American family very vulnerable.”
Thursday by phone I asked Mr. Scott what reaction he’d received. Colleagues were “very supportive.” “ Orrin Hatch came in and hugged me,” he laughed. Public reaction was “very positive,” though “a minor percentage” disapproved. “Some people asked me to leave the party. Some people feel, they’re white and have been discriminated against as well. My point is, exactly! All discrimination is bad.” Some blacks, he said, are offended that he is Republican.
“I wanted to uncover my own pain and become vulnerable in hopes that others, who may not have my microphone,” will take heart. “I wanted to validate people and their concerns.”
Much progress has been made, he emphasized: “I don’t want us to be mired in the idea we’re losing ground. We’ve made up so much ground in the past 50 years.” But “there are dark corners that need a little light.”
When people are upset, whether it be protesters, office workers, friends… whomever… we have to understand, what are they after? Are they looking to vent (certainly understandable), score political points (argh), or are they looking to solve a problem and make a difference. I always hope it’s the latter, and if so then I am all in.
I post that table NOT to discount anyone’s feelings, or start an argument, or to argue we really need to ramp up police killings of Asians (THAT IS A JOKE!!!!). I post it because I’m not sure everyone is aware of this fact: Too many AMERICANS are being killed by the police. And because I know it’s coming (and I understand why) that is not to say all police killings are unjustified. But I think the chart shows two things that are equally true… Twice as many whites are killed by police as are blacks, and yet you’re 5 times as likely to be killed by police if you’re black than if you’re white. Going to the point with which I start this blog, you don’t have to be on opposite sides on this! Both those #s are stunning. I’m going to guess, a lot of you probably aren’t familiar with those #s. And I blame the media for that. Honestly, when is the last time on the national news you’ve seen footage of a white person being killed by the police? Yet it happens twice as often as a black person being killed by the police. Let me say explicitly here, yes, the numbers are not proportionate with the population. The point is we have created a false narrative that irresponsibility leads to a mis-identification of the problem and in so doing, drives people, as Chris Matthews says, to their battle stations, which makes arriving at a solution just about impossible.
And this is where I say we have to talk with each other. Not scream at each other, which I see far too often on Facebook (and frankly, the people doing this fall within my general age demographic, not my college-aged friends, which gives me hope!). We should also be able to learn without pandering and patronizing. I love this exchange I had with my friend Matt Cochran:
He posts something. I take the time to read it so I can learn. I respond and then he acknowledges the point I make and is willing to learn. Man, that is how we do things.
Let me give you another tangentially related story that I hope makes that point about not needing to pander. While I was teaching in Malawi, I would insist that my students use correct English, because that is an important aspect of how they were going to get ahead. And they knew it and wanted it. Every once in a while, we would get visitors, usually well-meaning Americans, who would end up speaking to the locals in their sort of bastardized English. They did this so they would “fit in.” One day walking with my students I corrected one on something and he immediately said “You know Ken. We like you so much because you respect us and make us do things the right way.” That was a remarkably powerful observation from a 17-year old orphan in Malawi. That’s what I mean by not being patronizing to people, just so you can fit it in. I recently read a column by Henry Rollins, which is exactly the “wrong” that I am talking about. Sure, there’s an element of preaching to the choir which will lead to heads nodding and saying “yep, that’s what I’m talking about…” But what’s his objective? It certainly doesn’t seem like to change minds. You and I are allowed to feel differently and think differently and we should be honest about that with each other.
While there are many different methods of persuasion, saying “How you can you be so stupid as to…” usually isn’t a good one. Empathy is a phenomenally powerful tool. So too is familiarity. People are MUCH more likely to be receptive to what you are saying if you bring them in, not push them away. Yelling “here’s why you can’t possibly understand my condition, because you’re the problem” doesn’t help people understand and worse, usually doesn’t make them want to. Unfortunately, hostility is all too often the approach people take, especially on social media, most notably Facebook. While Mr. Rollins’ column is a good example, another would be when certain elements of the #BlackLivesMatter – or others – talk about white privilege it generates an almost – and totally predictable and non-productive – visceral response with many white people who feel the term discounts struggles they’ve had. From my own perspective I’ve had to do a lot to make up for certain deficits I faced growing up (as have many people of every race). I worked hard, I treated people right, I made opportunities for myself. In my mind, class privilege or support privilege were more important. But I absolutely do not rule out the impact in this world of being white, as I described above.
So that was a bunch of words and I’m not entirely positive I made a point, so let me make it here. Absolutely #BlackLivesMatter. Absolutely too many people are killed by the police. This is one of those times where both things are true and we really don’t need to take opposite sides and man our battle stations. We shouldn’t try and “own” being the aggrieved, we should be trying to bring in as many people as possible to be the solution. The ultimate goals should be to have the police stop killing so many people and for #BlackLivesMatter to no longer be a thing, since it will be so patently true as to not have to be stated.