My Current Thoughts on Race in America

Forgive the general title of this blog post. I’ve got a lot of thoughts zooming around in my head on this topic, and this post promises to be on the lengthy side as I try to wrestle through all of them. I’ve already said some on this in the past few days, but the more time goes by and the more I dwell on what’s happening, the more I come up with that I feel I need to speak out on.

It’s shocking to me that even this has become a partisan issue. I know, nothing should shock me at this point, but Mitt Romney phrased it pretty well: “I state the obvious, which is black lives matter,” he said. “If there’s injustice, we want to correct that. If there is prejudice we want to change that. If there’s bias, we hope to give people a different perspective and to provide a sense of equality among our people.”

How is that a statement any compassionate person can disagree with? Of course, I already know the answer. They disagree by deflecting. They choose to dwell on the riots that have happened. The damage to property. Never mind the fact that the vast majority of the protests have been peaceful. Never mind the hundreds of videos that have been posted of police responding with brutality and excessive force. I believe there are many good policemen, but I also believe there are some who don’t deserve the badge they wear. Should I judge all police by the actions of those few? Should I judge all protests by the actions of rioters and looters?

Or they’ll deflect with nonsense about “Black on Black” violence. As if that excuses systemic racism and the need for reform. They’ll deflect by talking about “this one article written by an African American” that happens to agree with their point of view. (The same approach used to deny climate change, vaccinations, the fact that the earth is round, etc. If the majority of the facts don’t line up with what you choose to believe, go out and find someone with a veneer of authority who agrees with you, and then listen to that one voice over the chorus of voices that counter your argument.)

I think one of the things that frustrates me the most is the man-splainy confidence exuded by those who continue to deny the plight of minorities in our country. The casual way they dismiss “progs” or “social justice warriors,” smug in the security of their own beliefs. It harkens back to Kipling’s “White Man’s Burden” poem, where he speaks of the racial superiority of his race and their obligation to spread light and order to the world. As if the country and the protesters are wayward children which need to be corrected and disciplined.

“Defund the police?” they cry. “What sort of an imbecile would want to do that?” And Romney echoes that sentiment in the same interview I linked to above: “We need our police. We’re not going to get rid of the police. That’s a silly idea. We’d be nuts to think that we’re going to reduce our commitment to the police.” Props to Romney for speaking out on the importance of the movement, but ten points from Gryffindor for willfully misinterpreting some of the movement’s demands and calling those demands “silly” and the people who argue for them “nuts.” (He still gets a good grade in my book, though, for at least being willing to engage in this dialogue at some level. We need more of that, and if people disparage him even while he’s trying to engage, then the hope of more real discussion dwindles.)

Police reform needs to happen. It can happen by demilitarizing the police. Peeling away responsibilities from them and handing them off to other organizations, reforming laws, or even coming up with an entirely new system altogether. People aren’t arguing that the country should be without laws or ways to enforce those laws. They’re arguing that the current way appears to be broken in many places. The answer isn’t to dump more money on the problem. That’s been tried, and it failed. There are some places that have tried disbanding the police, and they’ve done so successfully. (Camden comes to mind.) Maybe before an idea is just tossed away as silly or nuts, the core of it should be considered and analyzed to see what can be done about it . . .

But even the pivot to focusing on defunding the police and what that entails is just another deflection. Trump would love nothing more than to shift the conversation to that. It’s an area where getting to the root of the argument is harder than looking at a policeman murdering a citizen and recognizing that’s not right. As I’ve racism and its history in our country has been on my mind, several of the things I’ve watched the last week have brought aspects of it into focus.

First, movies. We’re still working our way through our list of 150 films to watch, and this week we went through West Side Story and 12 Angry Men. Both of them are still relevant today. The “America” number encapsulates a lot of the arguments of both sides of the issue in a non-threatening manner:

Last night when we watched 12 Angry Men, I was very impressed with the racism scene. Throughout the film, there’s a character who’s dropped hints of wanting to find the defendant guilty of murder because of the defendant’s race. It goes unchallenged until close to the end of the movie, where that character boils over, enraged that people might want to find the defendant not guity.

So many of the arguments he makes are still being made today. I’d like to think that the reaction to those arguments (people turning their back on him, expressing disgust, until he’s left speechless off to the side of the room, powerless for the rest of the film) is what’s happening through these protests today. It takes time for some people to recognize there are problems. It takes people speaking out and pointing out the need for change.

Yesterday I also watched John Oliver’s Last Week Tonight episode focused on police brutality. It aired Sunday. I really enjoy this show. It’s well-researched and well-written, it makes compelling arguments in an easy-to-understand format. (My biggest critique is the constant need of the show to use very foul language. There are so many episodes I would like to share with people, but I know the language will make those people refuse to listen to the message the way they’d need to. I’m against censorship, but I wish people would recognize that when they package their argument in profanity, there’s a good chunk of the country that will never unwrap that argument, no matter how well-reasoned it is.) With a big warning about the language, here it is:

It’s a very powerful segment, and it ends with one of the best speeches on why people are protesting, rioting, and looting that I’ve heard. (This one also has bad language, but in this one, I believe it’s more than earned.) If you watch none of the other videos I just linked to, you should watch this one.

Interestingly, before I watched the whole speech, I was already planning on using a Monopoly analogy to explain this. It’s spot on, and it does it in a way I think most people can directly connect with.

In the end, my voice on this issue doesn’t matter nearly as much as the voices of those who have been directly affected by this. I’m a straight, white, middle class male who lives in one of the whitest parts of the whitest states of the country. In many ways, I hesitate to speak up at all, but this blog has always been about my take on everything from movies to politics to religion to my everyday life. This topic is dominating all of those areas for me right now. How can I not speak up about it?

Anyway. That’s where my mind is right now. I really hope some lasting, real change comes out of this. I worry that Republicans will use the “defund the police” argument to scare voters into supporting them come November. I hope people can see past the first glance of that argument to what lies beneath it. I hope we can begin to have some real solutions to these problems that are woven throughout the history of our country.

But in many ways, I’m struggling to hope at all right now. So much of the world feels bleak and grim. Between the pandemic and the protests and the riots and the economic unrest in the country, my state, and at my work, it’s very hard to press forward. I was finishing the Book of Mormon for the umpteenth time last week, and this passage really connected with me:

40 And again, my beloved brethren, I would speak unto you concerning ahope. How is it that ye can attain unto faith, save ye shall have hope?

41 And what is it that ye shall ahope for? Behold I say unto you that ye shall have bhope through the atonement of Christ and the power of his resurrection, to be raised unto life ceternal, and this because of your faith in him according to the promise.

42 Wherefore, if a man have afaith he bmust needs have hope; for without faith there cannot be any hope.

43 And again, behold I say unto you that he cannot have faith and hope, save he shall be ameek, and lowly of heart.

44 If so, his afaith and hope is vain, for none is bacceptable before God, save the cmeek and lowly in heart; and if a man be meek and lowly in heart, and dconfesses by the power of the Holy Ghost that Jesus is the Christ, he must needs have charity; for if he have not charity he is nothing; wherefore he must needs have charity.

45 And acharity suffereth long, and is bkind, and cenvieth not, and is not puffed up, seeketh not her own, is not easily dprovoked, thinketh no evil, and rejoiceth not in iniquity but rejoiceth in the truth, beareth all things, believeth all things, hopeth all things, endureth all things.

46 Wherefore, my beloved brethren, if ye have not charity, ye are nothing, for charity never faileth. Wherefore, cleave unto charity, which is the greatest of all, for all things must fail—

47 But acharity is the pure blove of Christ, and it endureth cforever; and whoso is found possessed of it at the last day, it shall be well with him.

48 Wherefore, my beloved brethren, apray unto the Father with all the energy of heart, that ye may be filled with this love, which he hath bestowed upon all who are true bfollowers of his Son, Jesus Christ; that ye may become the sons of God; that when he shall appear we shall cbe like him, for we shall see him as he is; that we may have this hope; that we may be dpurified even as he is pure. Amen.

It’s an epistle by Mormon toward the end of his life. He’s witnessed the total destruction of his people, and he can still speak of the need for faith, hope, and charity. I believe those are as needed today as they ever were, and that we have to continue to hope and have faith that things can and will change.

My grandfather, the composer and organist Robert Cundick, used pieces of these verses in his work The Redeemer. I listened to it again after reading the passage and being reminded of it.

That’s the sort of thing that continues to give me hope. Thanks for sticking with me this long. Here’s hoping tomorrow looks brighter than today.

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