Monday, August 18, 2014

Race Matters

In the year plus since I have last sat down and written something here there have been plenty of intense news stories to consider.  There have been mass shootings, and foreign policy crises, and all kinds of things that could have been discussed here.  I came close to posting when the street car extension went down in defeat, if nothing else to dance a little victory dance, but even then, no.  Too much other stuff in my life.  Just keeping up on the Facebook is hard enough sometimes.

But then on a Saturday afternoon, a man was shot by a police officer in the town of Ferguson, Missouri, a suburb of St. Louis--and life has been off the hook since. 

Partly it is because I have this amazing Facebook friend.  I've never met her in person, but she is a talented writer and the kind of person who stands up hard for what she believes in.  She even appeared on national television after a certain Facebook post about mommy fitness went viral and she presented an alternative message so well that the media wanted to interview her.  Well, my friend became very intense about what was going on in Ferguson, and posted stuff from non-MSM sources that were more reflective of the black experience.  Most of them I was in agreement with and some I realized were treading in land I could not, as a white person, access.  They aroused emotion and some argument.  Other places on the internet were ablaze with commentary, from national sites like CNN to local sites like Tony's Kansas City.  Of course I could not go just half way with this stuff, but plunged in head long as usual.  None of it has changed my mind about the way I feel about race matters--stuff I have blogged about years ago.  But everything has been brought up afresh with the events in Ferguson.  I find that unfortunate, since we have struggled hard in this country to make progress.

The main thing that I want to say here is that the old narrative that fueled the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s is broken and needs revision.  Now, I am not saying that it needs to be thrown out completely.  Slavery was real.  White European people came to see black African people as less than human, something that just boggles my mind (and a stream of thought that is very much alive today, alas), and because of this white people could see their way to treating black people very badly.  The Civil Rights movement swept aside all legal bits of this inhuman treatment, and even put in place some things to force equal treatment. 

So what happened?  Something did, because parts of American society are badly dysfunctional.  Especially black American society. 

Maybe it is not so much that the narrative is broken, but that it is misused.  It is used to deflect responsibility for one's actions.  It is used to jump to conclusions.  It is used to lump everyone in a given group all together in one monolithic stereotype.  It is used to lower expectations and to allow for failure to become acceptable.  It is used to avoid asking hard questions and hearing hard answers.  It is used as an excuse.

Racism, prejudice and bigotry are alive and very well in today's society.  We are not past Race Matters by any means.  There are certain things that as a white person I will never understand, no matter how empathic I can be.  Yet we have to stop and ask, Is this current narrative and what we say to ourselves as a country about race and the history of black and white people in this country working?  I would propose that what we say is not working, not working at all.  The proof is in Ferguson, Missouri, and it is playing out live on your TV, on your computer or smart phone, in comment sections and blog posts, in anger and fear, in destruction and distrust.  

I am pretty hard to scare.  I recognize that the MSM is manipulative with its "if it bleeds it leads" mantra.  I look at crime realistically, rarely allowing news stories to frighten me unduly, taking me past doing common sense crime prevention and simply being aware of my surroundings.  But Ferguson scares me.  The profile of Ferguson is not far off from suburban cities in Kansas City and even south KC itself.  Communities such as Raytown, Grandview, Ruskin and even the older parts of Overland Park and Olathe have experienced White Flight and significant population changes. Have their polity and politics kept up with the change?  Do their police forces relate to the community as it is composed now?  Could a mob come into my neighborhood and destroy what me and my family have worked for in a night of terror?  I look around and see a lot of positive signs:  The Grandview police department is light years ahead of where they were.  KCMO has a black mayor and police chief.  My neighborhood is integrated. I have good neighbors.

I would hate to have the powerful outside forces of racial politics and fear transform good neighbors into people I have to worry about harming our community structure in the name of race.  It is time for all races, tribes, groups and statuses to look realistically at the way we talk to ourselves about Race Matters and to take responsibility for our own sins and bad actions.  That is one way to snuff the fuse of the race bomb. 

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