It is time for a(nother) dialogue on racial issues in America
The recent civil unrest in Cleveland, Baltimore, and previously in Ferguson, Missouri, once again dredge up some of the lingering deep social divisions in our country.
At the outset, we ought to acknowledge that we all bring baggage into the discussion: experiences and beliefs. These color our view of what is right, fair and just.
Given who I am and that I served in the military, I have a certain bias towards law enforcement, an inherent respect for and deference toward authority. In my heart, I presume there is an underlying reason for the harsh response of the police.
I also understand that this position is likely different than a person who has grown up in an inner city environment who has been “stopped” simply because he may have fit the racial profile of a suspect in a crime.
This dichotomy is probably representative of the contrasting views that continue to divide our country long after desegregation was legislated some fifty years ago. The heart of the matter is the term “legislated.” You cannot legislate emotions and deeply held social beliefs.
So we stand divided.
I have an appreciation for what separates us. It is in part systemic, something often discussed in the media. However, it is also personal, something we assiduously avoid talking about. I believe that without a thoughtful public discussion of our feelings and a serious attempt to reconcile our beliefs, we will never do more than put Band-Aids on the symptoms, leaving us ripe for yet another inevitable outburst when frustrations, on both sides, return to the surface.
First, we must recognize that the playing field is not level. A significant portion of our population was left behind during the post- World War II economic boom, and ongoing attempts to set us on an even keel do not adequately address that imbalance.
For example, there was a housing boom and flight to the suburbs. By in large, blacks were excluded from this regardless of their economic status and financial ability to purchase such homes. Consequently, the succeeding generations were precluded from benefiting from the resulting significant build-up in assets that the real estate boom generated.
While perhaps only a small portion of what is an exceptionally complex development, it is never the less indicative of the systemic biases that have left many minority children far behind of their white contemporaries at the start point of their lives.
No amount of statutory adjustment can alter this condition. Likewise, accepted “middle class values” that followed from economic advancement were left largely undeveloped in some segments of society. This is not a race issue. Twenty-five years of residency in an overwhelmingly “un-diverse” part of the American geography has taught me that the dominant factor is economic status not ethnic origin.
This brings us to the very uncomfortable topic of social mores. It appears that much of the social problems we face, be it educational performance or crime, is as much a matter of personal responsibility as it is societal prejudice. To look solely for systemic solutions like imposing standardized testing and funneling ever more funding into educational programs will never overcome the problems.
We must also demand individual, and more specifically, parental responsibility. The video of Mrs. Jones dragging her son out of the riots in Baltimore went viral and she became a national hero to many for this exact reason. If a parent does not teach the importance of reading and education or the respect for authority, we will continue to face an imbalance of problems
A teacher cannot be held responsible for the performance of a student if they have influence over them for a mere few hours five days a week. Those who created or failed to inculcate, the core values of society and behavior, must be held accountable as well.
However, we cannot discount the reasons for the lack of respect for authority. The moral authority of the “Authority” has eroded over time. Respect must be earned; It cannot and should not be demanded by blind obedience.
Can we truly not understand why a segment of society is suspicious when its primary interaction with authority has typically been confrontational, regardless of their personal actions? Perhaps the more important question is what response we should expect to such experience: Non-violent civil disobedience? Resistance? Or compliance?
The sad reality is that for some of us, this issue appears transient; it raises its head periodically, then subsides into the distance. Yet, for others, it is a daily struggle that defines their existence. For this reason alone, we look at the issue across a deep chasm of cultural and experiential difference.
Under such conditions, I am not sanguine that a meaningful solution can be found, but it is evident that we must start with an honest, open discussion of the root causes of the problems. There is a legacy of discrimination that has set a portion of our country’s population at virtually permanent disadvantage. How this is rectified is certainly open for interpretation. However, it is clear that unless we also demand something in return, personal responsibility, no level of funding and no amount of effort to change the systemic biases will succeed.
If we do not “put it all on the table,” we are fooling ourselves that we are truly dealing with the problem. I hope that the legacy of the recent unrest is the opening of a dialogue rather than the continued closing of our minds.