And change the way you think about your country.
After reading and watching so many stories about injustices happening daily in our country, I was especially moved by the Seattle Times project, Under Our Skin. In fact, I would go as far as to say it is the single most important piece of media that every American should see, as soon as possible (http://projects.seattletimes.com/2016/under-our-skin/#). I guarantee that it will teach you something. I am an extremely progressive thinker, I am very much involved in any and every community which is underserved, who are victims of injustice, who are poverty-stricken, who are considered minorities, and so on. But, I was impressed by how much I learned about myself, about black culture, and about our society in general from this project.
I knew I wanted to write about Under Our Skin, but I also wanted to address the absolute outrage I feel regarding the almost daily murders of unarmed black men at the hands of police. Of equal importance, I wanted to approach the upcoming presidential elections, the candidates, and how all of these things come together. After weeks of mulling this over (whilst continuously taking in more and more information and opinions on the state of the union), I saw the documentary film, The If Project (http://www.theifproject.com/)--which is the second most important piece of media that every single American should see, as soon as possible. An outstanding police officer took the time to ask prisoners what could have happened differently, and in doing so, she forged an unlikely trust and friendship among inmates and corrections officers. Again I vouch, that without a doubt, you will learn something.
Suddenly, all of the pieces of this disturbing, complex, mess of the puzzle, which is American society, started to come together. It is beyond clear that we, as a nation, absolutely must learn about each other. We cannot change anything if we don’t know who we are and what we want—all of us. If you are white and you have a black friend, that is not enough. He does not represent the entire race, nor does he want to. If you are living or have lived below the poverty line, that is not enough. All poverty is not the same and times change. If you are black and you are speaking out about what is happening to the men of your race, that is not enough. Here’s the thing: people are complicated. We must assume nothing. Even if is pleasant and placid with our eyes closed, we have to pry them open to the blinding light, along with our minds. We have to open them to everything—especially the stuff that we don’t want to.
Of course we would all like to skip the tense, uncomfortable conversations and go straight to the peaceful, loving society. Of course we would prefer to speak only in niceties and avoid conflict. If nothing else, Americans are creatures of comfort. And not only do the things we most need to talk about and address, make us uncomfortable, we have been taught specifically not to talk about them. In our endeavor to remain “polite,” but more honestly, to remain comfortable, we have grown further and further from each other, surrounding ourselves with only likeminded individuals with similar lifestyles and economic statuses. Even when we care about what is happening to others, we don’t really do much about it. We rarely discuss the issues we most care about in any meaningful way, let alone do we write our congressmen or protest, and we certainly do not demand the results that we want from our politicians. If we did, we would have to talk about them. I mean, really talk about them, not post a meme or chant a slogan. I mean hash them out…until we reach a solution. And we certainly would not be in the situation we are in now, where none of us are thrilled with our choice of leaders.
We have to acknowledge that our avoidance of these topics: race, religion, gender, sexuality, money, and more, has contributed to the current powder keg, which is our nation. Once we acknowledge that, we can start to learn from each other what others need and want, and we have to learn that we don’t always get our way. We have to learn that like a good relationship, a good country makes decisions which benefit all, not some of its citizens, gives concessions to those who need them, and makes sacrifices, in order to make our country the place we all wish it were; the strong, united, harmonious place that we can all be proud of. Like Michael Jordan once said, “Some people want it to happen, some wish it would happen, others make it happen.”
So, if I am going to practice what I preach, I’ll start the process of conceding my faults as a part of the downfall of my country. Because I consider myself “in the know” about black culture, I have neglected to really learn what the most current voices of the community are saying (until recently). For the same reasons, and because, like many of you, I thought SO naively, that we were somewhat “past it,” I have neglected to remain involved in the Feminist movement. Which, contrary to popular opinion, by definition, means nothing more and nothing less than that I believe that men and women should have equal rights and be paid equal wages for equal work. And now, for the grand finale, I will admit my biggest shortcoming as a citizen (I know that many of you are with me on this). Although I am a relatively intelligent person, many times the details of a law or political theory challenge my wit to an extent, which I am uncomfortable with. Therefore, I am often too lazy to do the work and find out the details of what it really means. For this one, I am most ashamed, and I know that with my newfound insight, it is unavoidable that I force myself to work harder to understand the laws of the land in which I live.
I will also lead one of those “uncomfortable conversations” which I referred to. This topic is so perilous, in fact, that if I haven’t lost you already, I might now. I am married to a Pakistani immigrant. Not that it matters, but he is not Muslim, in fact unbeknownst to him, he is not a white American male, but it’s abundantly clear to the rest of us. So, I am particularly concerned, because of him, and because of the 13.5 Million displaced, distressed, suffering human beings from Syria, about the current hysteria surrounding immigrants and the seething contempt toward Muslims, which, like most hatred and bigotry, is due to fear and ignorance. Which leads me to the next unpleasant question…
The Statue of Liberty, our beloved, unwavering symbol of patriotism says "Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, the wretched refuse of your teeming shore. Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me, I lift my lamp beside the golden door!" These beautiful, meaningful, soulful words are supposed to be a credo of our country. The US Department of the Interior says, “The torch is a symbol of enlightenment. The Statue of Liberty's torch lights the way to freedom showing us the path to Liberty. Even the Statue's official name represents her most important symbol "Liberty Enlightening the World.” Do you really feel that we can legitimately claim that anymore? I would like to think we can, but, like everything else, it will require effort and dedication.
I know that many of you would respond that we should worry about Americans instead of outsiders, or something of the like. But to that I would say two things. First, why can’t we do both? And second, who exactly are these “pure Americans?” We are a country of immigrants. Like it or not. If you don’t like it, I challenge your patriotism, and refer you to the writing on the Statue of Liberty.
We have all built stereotypes, even of ourselves, which we are comfortable with. No matter how open-minded we are, there is something (or more likely multiple things) that we avoid talking about, asking about, and learning about. This is where the upcoming election, and general status of our country comes in. Everyone-black, white, gay, straight, Christian, Muslim, and all of the many shades in between--says they want change. Is Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump going to be that change? Nope. We are. But, how we vote and how we come together is a part of how we will affect change.
So here we are again at change. The “changes” implied by the Trump campaign, the ones which are alluded to in an underhanded, “Just between us,” sort of way are the ones we need to put on the table, shine a spotlight on, sit around that table, side by side, take a fork and knife, and dig into. As a forty-something white woman, it is unmistakable what the word “again” means, in the Trump slogan, “Make America Great Again.” He and his supporters harken to a time when everyone’s roles were clearly defined; gender roles, racial roles, and on and on. A time when it was not only acceptable, but encouraged to use pejorative terms about women, gays, black people, Muslims, brown people, disabled people, mentally ill people, whatever--anything and everything which was not a straight, white, Christian, man. So, what he wants, what a disturbingly large portion of the American public wants, is to erase, ignore, and overturn the past hundred or so years of still-in-progress fighting, legislating, teaching and struggling, done by millions of Americans in the name of creating a fair and equal society. So, with that in mind, I say, let’s just work on making America great.
To wrap this all up in a nice little bow, I will refer back to the two projects that I mentioned at the beginning. To all of you who are saying to yourselves “This writer is a know-it-all!” Well, I just might know it all! At least, I might have a good idea. Because I feel like there is something there (in those two projects) that if we tap into, could honestly fix the rash of police slaughtering black men in America. Watching Under Our Skin is a great start for non-black Americans and police officers of all ethnicities to begin to gain some understanding of what it’s like to be black in America. In The If Project, Seattle police officer Kim Bogucki, reached out and tried to understand the people she was arresting and handling every day. In fact, she befriended her community, those most unlikely to be her friends, like I have been suggesting, all along. In doing so, she made a difference and she made a change for the good. I believe that if she and her team could train police officers around the country to get to know and understand the black men in the communities where they work, the shooting of black men by police officers would be greatly reduced. It would be reduced because the fear and unknown would be reduced. The officers would know these men as part of their community, and would be familiar with them. And isn’t that essentially what we all need to do in order to really make a change…become familiar with the feared and unknown?