We Are Better Than This

My heart hurts at the vitriol I am seeing spewed online surrounding #BlackLivesMatter and the recent protest movement, from NextDoor to Facebook to LinkedIn (seen in replies to a post by my alma mater, Michigan State University). My head pounds with confusion and frustration, because I know we are better than this yet wonder what it will take to bring out our better nature across the board.

Let’s Not Stand Divided

While the news of James Mattis denouncing POTUS‘ behavior is welcome, I fear his move was made too late to make much difference. Divisiveness has now been tolerated, and even stoked, for years by those in a position to act against it who have instead condoned it.

The discord in society today is maddening and saddening, frightening and frustrating, confounding and concerning, all at the same time. So much of it seems to be knee-jerk one-dimensional reaction (too often shared in 280 characters or less), filled with judgment that leaves no room for compassion or objectivity. We are better than this, as a society — we have to be. Please join me in seeking the common ground; together, I believe we can find it.

I would like to ask that everyone step back for a minute and really feel and think before responding. Try — all I ask is that you at least TRY — to walk in someone else’s shoes for a moment in time. See a perspective different than the one you know from your own experience or from what a sound bite on your media of choice tells you. Instead of looking at one event or one piece of an event in isolation, look at the whole picture — the history and the interconnectedness of so much that is going on at this time.

Protests & Bad Actors

It is easy to make generalizations about an entire group of people based on the words or actions of a few, but that doesn’t make it right. Reality is more nuanced than that. Looking to a local source, given what has occurred here in recent days, The Las Vegas Sun reports: “(Clark County Deputy Chief James) Seebok said most protesters have followed the law, but that after they disperse, bad actors stick around to wreak havoc.”

Can we not find common ground on that? Bad actors are the problem, protests are not. And bad actors can come in any color and wear any color. Nine long minutes of video from Minneapolis and a critically injured Las Vegas officer confirm that. I just ask that we all do our best not to be one of them.

Black Lives Matter

Watching the George Floyd video was something I didn’t want to do. I hesitated…long and hard…and then I told myself I didn’t have a choice. I needed even the smallest taste of the fear, pain, and anger someone of color surely experiences watching it, much less living it day in, day out. And what I felt was overwhelming, so I cannot even imagine. I just don’t understand. Why? How? But at this point, much has already been written, the questions have been asked.

Bottom line, all it took was a potentially counterfeit $20 bill (whether he realized it or not) for a black man to pay with his life. And that is why #BlackLivesMatter has to be the focus.

So many online feel compelled to emphasize that “All Lives Matter.” Sounds good, but words are cheap and actions speak louder. If you put in the effort, you find there is a long history of action that says some lives don’t really matter as much as others. And that is more than enough reason to take action to change the long-standing injustice. In the words of Martin Luther King Jr., “The time is always right to do what is right.”

Nearly two days after posting this blog entry, I discovered I was not alone in my thinking. I hope you will join me in signing the We Are Better Than This pledge.

Learn more about systemic racism in the US

I highly recommend:

  • Uncomfortable Conversations with a Black Man Conversations with Emmanuel Acho where he talks through common questions about race (some solo, some with celebrity guests) that many white people have never been able to have. Short and to the point (episodes are about 10 minutes), great content and delivery.
  • Just Mercy is a 2019 film starring Michael B. Jordan as human rights lawyer Bryan Stevenson, who freed 135 men from death row and founded the Equal Justice Initiative. Also starring Jamie Foxx and Brie Larson. #JustMercy

“For every 9 people who have been executed in the U.S., one person on death row has been proven innocent and released, a shocking rate of error.”

  • True Justice: Bryan Stevenson’s Fight for Equality (viewed on HBO Max) documents the attorney’s journey to founding the Equal Justice Initiative and the realities of fighting to remedy injustices delivered by the criminal justice system due to ingrained racism.
  • Slavery in America: The Montgomery Slave Trade from the Equal Justice Initiative describes the experience of some of the estimated 10.7 million men, women, and children transported from West Africa and sold into slavery in South America, Central America, or North America and the nearly two million more estimated to have perished during the brutal voyage.
  • I Am Not Your Negro, a 2016 documentary based on James Baldwin’s unfinished book (available on Netflix and Hulu among others) gives tremendous insight into the lived experience of Blacks in America in the last 60 or so years. What a way with words Mr. Baldwin had! Powerful, eloquent, intense.
  • In The Hate U Give, a high school girl navigating two “worlds” is with her childhood best friend when he is killed by a police officer and then has to deal with the fallout. This 2018 movie feels like it could have been made this month.
  • Selma (a 2014 Ava DuVernay film) stars David Oyelowo as Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., with many other familiar faces, and covers the build-up to the Selma March, the March itself, and signing of the Voting Rights Act.
  • When They See Us on Netflix lays out the story of the Central Park Five from the perspective of the wrongly accused/convicted and their families throughout the ordeal. Director Ava DuVernay received the Freedom and Justice award at the 2019 Innocence Project gala.
  • 13th (an Ava DuVernay documentary) on Netflix addresses the history of racial inequality in the U.S., with a focus on disproportionate incarceration.
  • Time: The Kalief Browder Story is a Netflix mini-series that covers the story of a 16-year-old who spends three years in Rikers without a trial (2/3 in solitary confinement) because he won’t plead to a crime he didn’t commit (stealing a backpack). The trauma’s lasting effects led to his suicide two years after his release.
  • The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks (viewed on HBO Max) touched me with such intensity, unlike anything I have ever watched. The heart-wrenching performances by Oprah and the rest of the cast left me feeling (and reeling from) this powerful story to my core.
  • Hidden Figures (viewed on Disney+) demonstrates amazing resilience and determination in the face of race-based obstacles of every kind.
  • Green Book (viewed on Showtime) demonstrates an earlier phase of the systemic injustice that persists today. As Kareem Abdul-Jabbar wrote, on The Hollywood Reporter, “Green Book interprets the sea of historical events to reveal a truth relevant to today: Resist those who would tell you to know your place.”

Last updated July 10, 2021

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