February 3, 2015
In the wake of Ferguson, the topic of race relations was once again brought to the forefront of our minds, specifically in relation to the black community and the U.S. police force. The internet grew into a passionate frenzy--there was the digging up old police footage, the creation of poignant hashtags, and the calls for protests to end this type of brutality once and for all.
At first, I was excited to see the community (and by community, I mean American community) attempting to change the country for the better. As a person who studied politics in college, I was well aware that the members of my generation were, at best, only mildly interested in political issues. So in spite of the cringeworthy ravings of some ill-informed peers, I decided to look upon the race debates as positively as possible. Not only were we having a widespread conversation on race, but we were also showing an intolerance for this abuse of power. No longer were we going to sweep these types of incidences under the rug. No longer were we going to assume that the officers were performing in the best interest of the community they were supposed to protect. And with the protests that involved the voices of numerous races, no longer would this be a purely black issue.
I see now that this view was naive of me. I had truly expected that with our past progress in race relations and with the emergence of a younger generation rebellious against the status quo, we’d be able to come together as American citizens and create positive change for our country. Sure. I knew there’d be some extremists and racists on the sidelines spouting their usual hate and ignorance, but--hey--it was 2014, almost 2015, and we’d generally become a much smarter country...right?
It didn’t take long for my lollipops and rainbows hypothesis to crumble before my eyes. The debate on whether the officer was just and whether the victim was a decent human being was not a surprise to me. It’s a debate that gets repeated every time a similar case occurs. But imagine my surprise when the issue of race spread past the Ferguson topic. It seemed that I couldn’t turn my head without witnessing a conversation on racism in the music industry, the tv industry, film, etc. I even saw the allegations surrounding Bill Cosby accompanied with side remarks about how it was really the government trying to keep another black man down. Now, the last thing that I am saying is that all claims pointing to racism are invalid. It was just disheartening to see what I thought were decades of progress being flushed down the drain.
Instead of bringing us together, the race conversation only seems to further divide us. While there are some people who talk about the topic with a progressive and understanding mind, there are many that only want to point fingers and demonize with no realistic endgame. Perhaps the most heartbreaking thing I came across was an article posted by an intelligent black woman on a popular online journal that said that she didn’t know what to do with good-seeming white people. It highlighted all the nice things white people had done for her in the past, but it only resulted in her questioning their intentions. The first comment underneath the article was written by a white woman who came across genuine in wanting to know how, exactly, could she help this racial tension? It wasn’t a bad article and it had its good points, but the only thing it succeeded in doing was helping to widen a barrier that we should be closing.
It’s so easy for us to focus on race, isn’t it? When we see a cop kill a man, one of the first things our eyes perceive is the color of their skin. We’re programmed to look at that case, think about the past situations, and make connections and inferences. It’s understandable. It’s innate. But what if we tried to put a new lens? What if we tried to look at everything from a human perspective, and not a black or white one? I am not talking just about court cases, but about everything we come across. Why do we have to put “white” in front of a rapper’s title? Why do we have to put “black” in front of the word president? Imagine what our country would be like if we, for just a moment, resisted the urge to judge and categorize people based off of a factor that they had no part in choosing. Imagine how fast we could actually get to the root of a problem without the distraction of race. Sure, there will be situations that really are what they seem to be, but can’t we be progressive enough as human beings to realize that our past ways of discernment are neither helpful nor useful?