Well, of course there’s racism. And sexism, and homophobia, and classism, and just about every other 'ism you can think of. And there always will be as long human beings interact with other human beings.
John Lennon’s “Imagine all the people living life in peace” was an ideal, not a goal. The eradication of racism and all the other 'isms is an ideal not a goal. Ideals are not meant to be achieved; their usefulness is in pulling us toward a better future.
[sharequote align="center"]The eradication of racism and all the other 'isms is an ideal not a goal.[/sharequote]
Darren Wilson, invariably described as the armed police officer who shot an 18-year-old unarmed black man, was referring to the ideal when he told an interviewer, “Everyone is so quick to jump on race. It’s not a race issue.”
Sure it is. Let’s face it; anything that mixes whites and blacks today is a race issue. Rather than focus on how we’ve failed to achieve the ideal, let’s set some realistic goals to eliminate spurious racism.
The first goal is to acknowledge, matter-of-factly, that racism exists. The only disagreement is to what degree it actively exists, and to what degree the legacy of racism influences us, consciously or subconsciously, today.
Simply by starting with a point of agreement, we’ve achieved goal one.
In this undated handout photo provided by the St. Louis County Prosecutor's Office, Ferguson police officer Darren Wilson is seen in Ferguson, Missouri. Police officer Darren Wilson shot 18-year-old Michael Brown on August 9th, 2014. (Photo by St. Louis County Prosecutor's Office via Getty Images)
Goal two is to chisel gradations from the racism that does exist. Fried chicken is not holocaust on a plate; unwanted kissing is not sexual assault; and today’s racism is not Jim Crow.
Reasonable people from all points of view acknowledge the progress we’ve made in race relations; they appreciate that police officers risk their lives every day to protect the public; and they refuse to tolerate police mistreatment and brutality toward black people.
Goal three is to identify racial hot spots and focus attention there first.
Jennings, Missouri had such distrust of law enforcement that the city council voted to shut the entire police department down. Racism, both the active and legacy kinds, made trust between local police and the community impossible.
Darren Wilson, laid off with all the other officers in Jennings, took a job in Ferguson.
Goal four is to take into account that both reasonable and unreasonable people will perceive the presence or absence of racism based on their own past experiences.
Good cops or bad cops, blacks who have been abused by cops or blacks who have been protected by cops are to some extent blind to each other’s experience because they are so immersed in their own.
Like blind men describing an elephant—trunk, knees, ears, or tail—each experiences a different reality. For whatever reason, some people love/hate the police; some are familiar/not familiar with urban communities; some lie.
Because Darren Wilson came from an identified racist police department, some people in Ferguson saw him as racist. Not because he was in fact racist, which ultimately is known only by him and his God, but because their personal experience caused them to see police as racist in general.
Goal five is to identify the part of racism we can influence for the better. It’s not human nature, and it’s not personal experience since we will always see racism (or not) based on the way we perceive our world interacting with us, and why.
The part of racism amenable to change is reducing the degree to which different people or groups benefit from fanning racial flames.
Protesters stand in the middle of a busy intersection blocking traffic Sunday, Nov. 23, 2014, in St. Louis. (AP Photo/Jeff Roberson)
Take Jesse Jackson or Al Sharpton, as just two examples. They exist to fight racism, so clearly they have a vested interest in the continuation of robust and pernicious racism, preferably everywhere they look.
I can’t say for sure how Salon benefits from portraying Darren Wilson as racist, but their headline gives them away. The New Yorker presents the facts of Wilson’s life—death threats, threats to harm his unborn child (born in March), home security cameras synched to his phone, a life behind sunglasses and hat on the rare occasions he ventures out of his house, which is located on the outskirts of St. Louis and known only to a few friends.
Is it beyond the pale of understanding then that Wilson protects himself when he goes out to eat?
“We try to go somewhere—how do I say this correctly?—with like-minded individuals … You know. Where it’s not a mixing pot,” he said.
Salon titled their article "Unemployed Darren Wilson living off donations, only shopping 'with like-minded individuals — where it's not a mixing pot.'"
There is a big difference between shopping and eating, don't you think? Eating in friendly places makes sense; declining to shop where blacks shop makes him sound racist.
Slate, similarly, found Wilson's statements "damning" and paraphrased them in a more racist-sounding direction. Wilson said he applied to police a "tough" community to earn more income and pay his dues for an easier assignment.
He also told the New Yorker, “When I left Jennings, I didn’t want to work in a white area ... I liked the black community ... I had fun there ... There’s people who will just crack you up.”
Slate reported that "He thought of policing black neighborhoods as a method of career advancement," inferring that was just using blacks to get ahead.
We can't alter human nature or personal experience. We can reduce racism by identifying and eliminating benefits to those who profit from it.
Or, we can just do what Morgan Freeman recommends: Stop talking about it!
Donna Carol Voss is an author, blogger, speaker, and mom. A Berkeley grad, a former pagan, a Mormon on purpose, and an original thinker on 21st century living, she is the author of “One of Everything,” the story of how she got from where she was to where she is. Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org
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