I like to argue. It makes me nervous as hell. I start shaking while debating something silly, sweating when the topic turns more serious. I don’t know why I do it, but I know it comes naturally. Thus, it’s second nature for me to see an argument, like black people in Baltimore are rioting because nobody else listens and finds solutions when they speak out peacefully, and think, well, rioting isn’t the right answer here.
I—I’ve been making a lot of “I’ statements lately, which bothers me—think I’m a pacifist. I don’t like seeing people hurt. I don’t agree with war. I don’t think looting solves any problems. I don’t think destruction of anything is positive. I prefer diplomacy.
But I’m starting to see that it’s not enough to look at what someone or some group of people is doing and to disagree with it and thus their entire cause. I don’t want to say anymore that I think rioting is wrong and that you really need to stop doing it. Where is the solution in that? There is no constructive criticism, nothing that assists the situation. I don’t want to add more negativity or division.
So what now? I just read and re-read Michael Eric Dyson’s op-ed in The New York Times. He writes about Freddie Gray’s funeral, and does a good job, I think, of illustrating the type of problems black people in Baltimore and other poor urban centers are facing. I say problems because, as he and Revered Jesse Jackson say, in this piece and during Gray’s service, respectively, it’s not just police brutality that’s a problem. It’s not just one thing. It’s a slew of social issues, and, it seems to me, we’re so caught up in saying, “Well, that’s a bad way to solve X problem,” that we’re not doing anything productive to actually solve the problem.
Here’s one passage that really helped me see what minority groups are struggling with:
Speaking on the radio, trying to make sense of what was unfolding a few miles away, I conjured a basketball analogy to explain the riots: Often on the court, a player commits an offense — say, hitting an opposing player in the ribs — without being spotted by the referee. When the offended player strikes back, he is often hit with a foul. The black youths who took to the streets have been hit so often with unacknowledged assaults — from racial profiling to poor schooling — that their violent responses are often viewed through a haze of social stigma that penalizes them without regard for context.
In his funeral remarks, Rev. Jackson mentions that his people feel threatened. I don’t want anyone to feel threatened, I think, how can I help? He mentions that his people are afraid. I don’t want anyone to be afraid, and even though the violence if your riots make me afraid, I want us to overcome this fear. How can I help?
That’s what I’m feeling and thinking now. And for once, I feel like my responses are turning toward productivity. I’m going to keep thinking on that and asking those questions. I have a feeling that as much as people (ahem, like Donald Trump and random commenters on random websites) urge leaders to diplomatically fix things, somehow, that that’s not going to work. I think we—all of us—need to come together and realize that we don’t want this group—any group—to feel this way or to be treated this way, and that we all—not just this group, any group—need to realize that it’s a problem for all of us, and that we need to stand together to find workable solutions that will heal our society.
And really, I think Rev. Jackson, and everyone else in his community, must be exhausted.
Updated April 30 to correct the spelling of Freddie Gray’s last name. I default to the British “Grey” every single time. Apologies!