Acknowledging Race Perpetuates Difference
After the election of our first black President, some people were quick to declare that America had become a "post racial society", but as the recent events in Ferguson have shown us, nothing could be farther from the truth. The truth is that we live in a society where race seems to be at the very forefront of nearly everything we do. Most of us claim to want to end discrimination and racism, but what do we actually do to bring about change? What do we as individuals actually do to help usher in the "post-racial society" we've heard so much about?
One problem I see everyday is the fact that we are constantly acknowledging each others race and being forced to identify ourselves by our race. We call ourselves "white" or "African-American" or "Hispanic", as opposed to simply being "American". Theodore Roosevelt has been quoted as saying "There is no room in this country for hyphenated Americans..." By which he meant there was no room for those people calling themselves "Irish-American" or "African-American" or "Mexican-American" et cetera. I for one tend to agree with him, at least to an extent.
Unification, not Nationalism
I believe that what our country needs is a sense of true unification, a belief that we are all "in this together", so to speak. So when I say that I agree that there is no room for hyphenated Americans, that is not a form of Nationalism. It is not a call to some form of great national pride trying to say that we should all rally around the flag. There is a time and place for such things. I am simply saying that we should instead think of ourselves simply as "Americans" in the same sense that Canadians think of themselves as "Canadians". I have never heard anyone refer to an "African-Canadian". Why is that?
When we create these artificial barriers we create divisions among our people, and those divisions only serve to keep us divided. When we divide ourselves in these ways, we then feel compelled to track data based on these divisions and to drag these divisions into every scenario whether they actually belong there or not. I believe this is, at least in part, the case in Ferguson. I also believe that the news media is largely to blame for the way events unfolded there.
Sticking to the Basics
At it's most basic level, what originally happened in Ferguson was that a teenager who was suspected of robbery was apprehended by the police, and after resisting arrest was shot and killed in the street. This is a tragic tale told exactly as is. However, that tale simply wasn't tragic enough for the news media. The news media had to play-up the fact that the police officer in question happened to be white, and the teenager in question happened to be black. The media knew there already existed racial tensions in the town of Ferguson, Missouri and so they whipped those tensions up into a fervor in an effort to increase their ratings. And in doing so, they also increased racial tensions throughout the United States.
If the news media had stuck to the basics of the story, passions would not have been as inflamed, and the city of Ferguson might not have found itself in flames after Officer Wilson was non indicted for shooting Michael Brown in the line of duty.
There are those among us who benefit from keeping us divided. There are those who profit from keeping us scared of each other. They want us to continue to live in fear of those that we perceive to be different than we are. But the fact is that in the 21st century, we are more interconnected than at any point in history. Our ideas, our beliefs, our messages can spread globally in the blink of an eye. The news media uses this to divide us. Activists use this to infuriate us, and inflame our passions so that we will rally for their causes. But if we are wise, we can see through this manipulation and realize that we are all just people and if society is ever going to function the way Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. had dreamed, then we have to see past our differences and rally around those things that really matter.
People Not Colors
The tragedy of Ferguson isn't that a black man was shot by a white cop. It's that a young man had been so ill-guided and so angry about the system in which he had been raised that he traded his life for a handful of tiny cigars and some male-posturing. The tragedy is that a person was shot, regardless of color. Only when we are able to start seeing each other as people, and not people of varying colors, will we be able to transcend the divisions that race has cast upon us.
We currently live in a society where most people do not feel comfortable talking about issues of race. The reason we don't feel comfortable talking about it is because we are fearful that we may offend someone else. Whereas it may be commendable to not want to offend others, the fact is that when you are so fearful of offending others that you allow it to stifle your own self-expression it prevents us from having honest discussions. Our inability to have those honest discussions, to be able to openly discuss our fears and our differences means that we are also less able to overcome them.
Listening to Understand
As a society we need to develop better listening skills.We need to learn to listen to understand. Not just listen to respond. Most of us, when we listen to others, are merely listening with the objective of forming our own response. In doing so, we never take the time to process the information we receive from the other party in a way as to understand how they feel and why they feel that way. If we did a better job of listening to understand, that is, listening to truly understand why the other person feels and believes as they do, then we could become a more compassionate society. Compassion is the first step we must take in our journey towards true unification.
© 2014 Anthony