“Never delve into the comments section” is an internet commandment I hold powerfully to. It has saved me a lot of headaches. The reasoning is that any arguments that ensue, which seem to be inevitable, go nowhere. Everyone has their stances. And like any beginner martial artist, people lock into their stances too rigidly. It is very rare that people come away from these exchanges any better off. Or, I should say, it is limited to particular communities in which growth occurs.
Recently I broke my rule.
I have remained not just on the sidelines, but well in the nosebleed sections of the stands when it comes to discussions on a lot of social ills. I have found in life, much like comment sections, discussions in and of themselves aren’t going to change the thinking of anyone. Experiences are powerful, and that is usually what needs to occur for change to take root.
What caused me to make exception was this image posted by a friend:
The protest which started with Colin Kaepernick some time ago has gained a lot of steam. Other football players and athletes from every level made the choice to kneel as well. And, after some heated words from President Trump himself, even many owners chose to act in protest with their players.
The backlash, including the President’s ire, has been severe. An outcry from people related to the armed forces was raised. People who served recently, family members of the fallen who have served in the armed forces, and the civilians who have aligned opinions think that kneeling is disrespectful.
As a Black man I can understand with no hesitation why Kaepernick chooses to kneel. As a civilian I don’t have a connection to the soldier outrage. This is in spite of two of my four parents having served in the military. It is where they met. They ran their household in, for lack of better wording, a regimented fashion. Even so patriotism was not hammered into me. Nor did I pick it up via osmosis.
What I see in this argument is a stalemate. Protesters feel like their voices aren’t heard, and that they aren’t left with (m)any other ways to bring attention to their message. Counter-protesters feel as though the latent disrespect of the flag and those that died for it must be addressed.
There is a commonality in these two groups: We are all upset about our fallen.
Soldiers, in all cases, choose to serve. Even when they feel duty bound or otherwise obligated to do so. They did not choose to die, or to be crippled, maimed, and all but forgotten in some cases upon their return home. I wonder why, after all of human history, war is still the answer. I am filled with sorrow at the lost potential of so many people. As wars persist and we as a world community have the same fights part of me laments that the death of all these soldiers was in vain. Family of soldiers that have been killed will never see their loved ones again.
People who have died at the hands of police, in all cases, also made choices. Some of these choices led to contact with law enforcement one way or another. This could be a direct result of violating laws. This could be from someone reporting the person as suspicious. In instances in which the civilian was unarmed and not a clear threat, I am filled with sorrow that a lethal force option was selected. Families of those killed will also never see their loved ones again.
Death is shared between these groups. Valued lives were cut short all around.
Before I engaged in the thread, the above right image featuring Tommie Smith and John Carlos from the 1968 Olympics had been shared. It was improperly cited as Jesse Owens, who was famed for his 1936 Olympic showing. I followed the improper citing too, as I was trying to address the issues people raised rather than nitpick every point. I chose to include both photos here as both events were referenced, but will correct the citing instances as needed.
The primary dissent in this thread was that the act of kneeling during the anthem is disrespectful to, ultimately, the soldiers who fight presently or have died in the name of America. The aforementioned Olympic games were cited as protesting done right. Of 1936, this was in the face of “True Oppression.” In regards to 1968, the poster of the image was “impressed” at the protest while it “still respected his [Smith and Carlos’] country.” That same poster thinks that Kaepernick and others need to “Find another way” to protest.
In his autobiography Silent Gesture Tommie Smith stated that the raised fists were not a Black Power salute, but rather a Human Rights salute. This famous scene was in fact a concerted effort as Peter Norman, the Australian athlete standing in second place, gave a glove to John Carlos and all three athletes wore Olympic Project for Human Rights badges. This all happened in 1968. This is nearing fifty years ago. And since that time there are still protests for equality. And to prove that I need to talk about one of the more famous foils to police brutality qualms; Black on Black Crime.
Many that have denounced police brutality protests as disingenuous point out that, statistically, Black people are more likely to die at the hands of another Black person than they are from law enforcement. “I don’t see any protests about what happens in your community, so why are you all complaining about police just doing their jobs?!” If you have never lived in a predominantly Black community, it is unlikely you see the actions for what they are. The truth of the matter is we have kept up our protests the entire time.
I remarked earlier on Choice. Choices take soldiers abroad. Choices may bring civilians face to face with law enforcement. I am of the mind that once someone comes in with weapons, civilians and otherwise, it is a bit late for words and outcries to have any effect. As such we have to cultivate scenarios in which choices can be made that preserve life. We aim for the root issues and try and solve them. This is how we as a community try to fight needless death. This is, by no means, an exhaustive list of efforts taken.
- Economic Opportunities – America has shifted rapidly. In a single lifetime for some, we have gone from a nation of manufacturing, to being more consumer and service oriented. Many have been left behind as bars to entry have been raised and resource allocation stagnates. Some believe it is easier to take whatever you can rather than try to earn it. Where we can we try to instill a work ethic and help to lay the foundation to build a better life.
- Education – The middle class has been squeezed. Whereas once college was for high end careers it is now a necessity to have a chance at breaking even in the middle class. But the cost of college has risen and, with a lack of economic opportunities many are hard pressed to have the funds to begin a viable career. Still, primary and high school is important. There is an emphasis on completing college. Failing that, finding some trade legitimate outlet is culturally preferred to lazing about.
- (Mental) Health Care – Living in a place with constant noise and potential crime have been proven to induce a lot of stress. It is comparable to living in a war zone. For a long time, there has existed a stigma in Black culture in speaking about mental illness. So oft in my childhood “giving my problems to God” was sound advice for everything. It is still an upward struggle. However, along with the rest of the country, we are more open. We speak about our health, consider doctors and medication. And, for those that can stabilize under their own willpower, holistic outlets are also considered.
- Social/Societal Perception – We still fight stereotypes and subconscious reinforcement that we are not all thugs, criminals, and otherwise the dregs of society. We have trouble relaying on a wide scale that we are nuanced individuals just as anyone else. And if I knowing full well who I am fight with that, I know it will be harder for people greatly dissimilar to me. As I meet and make one new friend at a time, I like to think I negate negative images as I go along.
“The afflicted have never stopped protesting” was a sentiment I relayed to the thread. The above issues I have shared, and many more that are simply out of mind, have been worked on every day. At this point for generations. We have voted for representatives, built and aimed to support small businesses, allocate revenue for education, and tried to live lives well outside reproach. We have played the game, and made forward strides. But in this time period we are watching what ground we’ve claimed fall away behind us. Protests are usually the last resort. When we aim for change and after generations see no progress, what else is there to do? I noticed that something was wrong with my world when I was eight. And now, decades later, I struggle against old issues that predate me.
As I quote above, one person in the thread did not seem to feel as though the current protests are warranted. Citing Jesse Owens from 1936, the poster felt Owens did what was necessary in the face of “True oppression.” Up until recently I did not think any American would balk at Owens’ proving Nazi ideology fallible on a world stage. I acquiese that there are not widespread lynchings as there once were, nor overt racism, on the scale there once was in America. Though exceptional one lynching has gained national attention in my lifetime. Chillingly, this came from Jasper, Texas. There, in 1999, James Byrd Jr. was murdered. Thus, racist ideology is not completely stamped out. I asked of the poster how many had to die before it became “true oppression”, and stated that the reason for the protests are to prevent even getting to the point of genocide. I also asked a question I never get a direct response to: “How should I/we protest?”
In reply, these videos were posted. While I watched them I could feel myself keeping my guard up. I remembered a reminder I had watched regarding The Backfire Effect, and decided to watch them again.
The first video shares data under the topic “Are the police racist?” While, statistically, encounters with the police will end favorably for me if I remain calm that did nothing in the face of my experiences.
When I am walking down a street and a police officer cuts me off and approaches me with a hand on their weapon I am not concerned about statistics. I am concerned about living. What can I do when an officer calls for back up, and persists in giving me unclear instructions? I have managed to make it through these events unscathed, yes. The fear that I wouldn’t be so fortunate reigned during the events themselves.
The second video shares data under the topic “Is America racist?”, and made me feel similar to the first. I live a life much different than that which could have been concieved fifty years ago. My education and ability to write as I am are some of the most obvious signs in my life. As the video pointed out, having a Black President are signs of changing thoughts nationwide as well. These are facts on a national scale, and have their weight. But I relay stories of my daily life, containing slights almost imperceptible. Sure, someone may have an off day or I may encounter genuine bias, but that is not the whole. But as I continue to live life, how often do I write off event after event before I consider the problem is not with me but the world I live in?
(A note. In checking the informative sources for these videos, many links did lead to what I consider to be valid sources. However, enough of them led me to articles that the video spokespersons had written to give me pause. )
It was after watching these videos that I came to a realization; Data and facts did not make me feel better.
And this is the battle.
You can provide all the data in the country, but if it differs from my day to day I simply can’t believe it. Polling hundreds of thousands of people doesn’t change my singular life experiences. And the individual testimonies of hundreds of thousands of people of color hasn’t swayed the hearts and minds of those more connected to soldiers and the military than to us. In the thread I said “Protesting is not to please the status quo, but to inform them that something is wrong.” I was told that there is little point in protests if they alienate large swathes of the population. And to this point, I have to agree. However, just because someone presently has a worse hand than you, or has at any point in time in human history, it does not invalidate your feelings. “True oppresson” rarely occurs all at once. Most of the time, the people that really want to cut others down simply do so, and will only justify it later if pressed to. However, this group will chip away at the population that can be swayed slowly gaining more influence. There is some humor in this, as these are the same acts they blame their targets of.
I find that this is where discussions stall. One group has feelings, and is agitated enough to speak on it. In response other groups cry out “I have those feelings too!” Rather than settling up with the source problems, we just focus on the feelings. It is somewhat pointless crying about the seeds when the parent weed still has roots.
This will sound strange. I am not concerned with racism, per se. I am concerned in what people actually do to dismantle it. As I brought up, people are dying. I have seen offending officers as they are put on a paid leave through their hearings and trials. Afterwards, they have kept their positions or are transferred to another precinct. As a civilian it looks like these officers are getting away with murder. This is not in every case, but enough to see a pattern.
Data is factual, yes. I can see where clusters occur. I can see where trends venture. I am not concerned with the statistical whole. I am concerned with the exceptional outliers and their frequency.
Per the norm, this is a complex issue with no easy answers. There is a sentiment from a book of Eastern Mythology I took in ages ago. I cannot remember the source, though I will update this if I find it again:
“The best way to defeat a warrior is to ensure the well being of his loved ones, friends, and allies. If you can accomplish this, the warrior will have no reason to take up arms.”
My interaction with this thread came with one spot of personal growth. I accepted that I do not know the feelings of families of soldiers, especially those that were killed. This is not a damning deficit. Knowing I can’t understand them does not stop me from considering other solutions to the issue of protesting. I relayed my experiences as Fact. For me, my life experiences are Fact. And I accept that the experiences of soldiers’ families are Fact too. That’s the thing about Truth. It can exist in opposition and contradiction.
My first solution, considering this, is to accept as fact the feelings on the other side. From there, bridge gaps and look for solutions together.
My second solution is to have conversations. If you need to, go look up rules for proper debate and social etiquette for speaking with others. I see all too frequently one side trying to shout down another side. All the spin and soundbites get regurgitated as plausible arguments. Just because they are heard a thousand times or more doesn’t make them viable. I am proud to say I have seen many of my friends do as I have. They speak to others one-on-one, calmly relaying personal experiences.
My third recommendation is so outwardly reliant that I can’t call it a solution. That is to document and chronicle your life experiences so that others outside your communities can see them. These days, folks preach to their choirs in their echo chambers. We lose sight of people unlike us still being our countrymen. Life is full of nuance. Your neighbor will not see the same sunrise living just next door, but the same sun rises on someone on the opposite side of the planet. If you put your story out there, we can marvel at the uncanny differences. We can also see just how similar those distant sunrises are.
There is a proverb that I can only trace back to the African continent. “Until the lion learns to write, all stories [relayed in writing] will glorify the hunter.” Much of the world enjoys some form of Digital Literacy. Even if you can’t read or write, you can probably discern how to make a video. Technology has outpaced our ability to adapt to it, and there is some good in this. History and Truth are, in this age, being recorded day to day by everyone. It is no longer a strictly top down affair. You can use Twitter, YouTube, or perhaps even WordPress to follow the life of some you disagree with. You can give a face to all you abhor and try to see it in a new light.
This world is big enough for all people. I believe it has to be. History, recent and distant, is full of strife. That will not end if we do not take to heart the plights and feelings of others. I learned and now hold onto the empathy I feel for soldiers and their families. But I also understand the weight in the hearts of those who do not stand. As I end this piece, I have done all I can on my own. Now I need your help. I will show you my life and what I have endured. Show me yours. For those that stand, I want to stand with you. Help me to regain the same measure of pride in this country as you do. Let’s make it better together, and fight now so our children don’t need to.