A slow search for agreement on race

by | Sep 25, 2016 | Politics/Government, Pop/Life

It was a maddening week on the racial harmony front here in America. And in my quest to find a quick and easy solution to it all, I came across some great reading. My confidence is low that any of you have read what I read, but since a couple of these columns made me feel a little better, I felt it my duty to share.

The first piece was by Dr. Laree Kiely in the August 6, 2013 edition of the American Society for Public Administration (ASPA) newsletter titled “The Art of Disagreement.” An old ASPA newsletter doesn’t sound exciting to you? Admittedly it could use some pictures or video, but of what, I have no idea.

The second piece was posted on Medium.com, and actually was a speech given by John Metta titled “It’s Not About Race!” That one would provoke just about anyone in America this week, even more so if one took the time to learn all of its historic lessons.

These pieces, combined, helped me personally work through some of our current conflict about protesting systemic racism during the playing of our national anthem. Controversial police shootings, and the civil unrest that followed, in Tulsa and Charlotte this week provide the foundation to that discussion.

From “The Art of Disagreement,” the lesson is very clear: withhold forming an opinion as long as possible, and during that forced delay, use the time to learn all you can about all sides of an issue.

I have resisted the urge to write about the national anthem protests, and the angry responses to it, largely because of my own confusion. That confusion turned out to be my friend. I have read a lot, learned a lot, and now have decided how I feel about it. I wish people wouldn’t protest our flag and our song, because I don’t.

However, our flag and song are not so sacred to me that they are more important than any one American who has unnecessarily been harmed by our government, either by commission or omission. The protests have been peaceful, and there is not much that is more American than that. And finally, the protests actually worked on me by forcing me to learn some things I did not know, leading me to empathy that I did not have.

Which leads me to the speech, “It’s Not About Race!” Metta does an excellent job explaining how culture develops, and how slow and difficult change can be in and around it. There is racism in America. No, it is not new. Those of us who believe it is a noble charge to eradicate it from our culture need to stay the course. But growing our understanding of it is still helpful, even for those of us who abhor its existence in our culture.

The unrest in Charlotte was sad to watch. All riots are. The incident that provoked it and the harm that it caused were both tragic. I’m curious if that could happen in Indianapolis just as easily. Are we simply waiting our turn, or are we doing what we can now to keep the peace before we completely lose it?

It is my belief that the bulk of Americans, of all races, oppose systemic racism in law enforcement. Even most of those who erroneously believe it does not exist do not approve of it. So maybe we should dwell on this aspect of agreement.

Gov. Mike Pence said this week that there is too much talk of systemic racism. Spoken like a campaign with virtually zero support from the African American community. Statements like these entrench us further, and push solutions further into the distance. Advice to the Trump/Pence ticket: spend more time with John Metta and less time with Don King.

In the ASPA column, a quote dating back to Georges Clemenceau was cited: “it is far easier to make war than peace.” I agree. This challenge is going to be difficult.

Much of the difficulty comes from too many of us being unwilling to learn more about other individuals, and other cultures. And as Metta points out so well, learning cultures does require learning how they developed, not just the details of the moment.

Dr. Kiely’s column followed an experiment which tested the objectivity of people and people’s unwillingness to be convinced that an opposing view is correct. In that spirit, I wonder how the American culture would respond if white Americans were being shot by black police officers.

The solution would be different. I don’t know how, but I do know it would be different.

So after a week of learning about all of this, I have decided I will stand for the flag and the song at the Colts game this afternoon. But if anyone kneeling asks me why, I know better now exactly how I plan to talk about it with them.


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