Do You Want to be Right? Or Do You Want a Better World?
The politicians won’t fix this. It’s up to us, the people.
These are not peaceful protests! They’ve gone completely bonkers!
How can I have sympathy for protestors when they tear down a statue of an abolitionist and one symbolizing the progress of women? It’s time to bring the hammer down!!
That’s how I first felt when reading about protestors in Madison, WI pulling down the statue Forward and another honoring COL Hans Christian Heg. They even beheaded Heg before throwing him into Lake Monona. And now they’re demanding the removal of a statue of Abraham Lincoln, the Great Emancipator.
It doesn’t make sense. I can’t understand why people protesting for racial justice and equal treatment in our communities could justify tearing down monuments to those who were fighting for these same things over a century ago.
Of course I can’t understand — I can’t understand the level of anger and frustration and fear that so many of the protesters have faced their entire lives. So, I can’t understand the emotions that would lead to these counterintuitive actions.
And neither can others condemning these actions and calling for police and the military to “restore order.” For many, these latest actions — tearing down statues of abolitionists or damaging and looting small businesses including those with Black owners — validate their fear that protesters just want chaos and anarchy.
Have those committing these acts gone too far? Is damaging businesses and monuments crossing a line? Consider that the Black community has tried for decades (preceded by others who tried for decades and others for decades before them) to work within our system of laws and rules to make truly substantive change only to see ongoing evidence of failure.
Are those condemning these acts and demanding “law and order” being unreasonable, or worse, racist? Consider they see themselves as having lived within the system of laws and rules, many having struggled and fought to have the life they want, and they see no reason this shouldn’t work for everyone.
Each side sees evidence supporting their opinions, words, and actions, but until they stop worrying about who is right and who is wrong, we will not end racism, we will not have racial justice, and we will not get equal opportunities for all.
And until those things occur, we will not be the nation we are capable of being. If we are to be a light of hope for the rest of the world, we must get past the rhetoric dividing our country and that will require everyone to listen and truly hear those with whom they disagree.
For those like me, who were upset when protests turned violent — when property was damaged and looting occurred, when COL Heg’s statue was pulled down and decapitated, and when cries arose to remove statues of Lincoln — consider what preceded these actions and whose example the protesters are following.
When our country was founded, the colonists spent decades working within the British system of laws and rules to address their grievances and attain reasonable treatment. These failed to address the grievances and brought additional sanctions and worse treatment from the crown, so the colonists took the only action remaining — actions outside the law, including vandalism and violence (and, of course, revolution).
The Black community and those who support their efforts for racial justice, equal opportunities, and an end to racism have strived since slavery ended to take action within our system of laws, and they have almost exclusively used non-violent measures. They saw laws passed and actions meant to address inequities and unfairness. They even saw Barack Obama elected president.
Yet they continue to see unarmed Black men and women killed by white police officers. They see gross inequities in the treatment of Blacks by law enforcement and the justice system. They see brutal economic disparity. When they tried to elevate their protests to gain attention — such as taking a knee during the National Anthem — they were condemned for that form of protest despite it being completely non-violent.
Is it any wonder, then, with the eyes of the world upon them, the protesters are now upping their game?
If you support the protesters and are discounting or counterattacking those who condemn them and their actions, realize your reaction is really no different than theirs.
You can’t understand their experiences and the circumstances leading to their reaction. Regardless of what advantages they had in their lives or how the systems and societal attitudes gave them an unfair boost, you cannot force them to see this or suddenly understand it. Rather, you need to recognize that their reaction is reasonable from their perspective and it likely creates real fear.
The system as they know it is all they’ve known; they may even realize the playing field is tilted in their favor. Changing that system — increasing opportunities for those currently disadvantaged — seems threatening because they see it as a zero-sum game; if advantages increase for some, then they must decrease for others. Even if that is not the case, that is how they see it.
And that is why we’ve made so little progress in the 50-plus years since the Civil Rights Act.
Every “solution” since the end of slavery resulted from a political battle; they were negotiated and compromised to get the necessary votes, and they all failed to deliver the hoped-for outcomes — otherwise we wouldn’t be fighting this yet again. It’s time to stop expecting the politicians to come up with the answers.
Protests will not bring equality, justice, or an end to racism.
“Law and order” will not lead to peace and tranquility.
We have one hope — that enough of us want to create a better world more than we want to be right.
Since the killing of George Floyd and the eruption of protests around the world, the loudest voices among protesters and those opposing protesters come from people who say they have the answer. They are making demands, seeking validation, and often trying to drown out anyone who doesn’t agree with them.
To create a sustainable better world for the Black community, we must create the best possible world for every community — because communities without racism, with true racial justice, and with equal opportunity for all will be better for everyone.
To achieve that will require listening to each other with empathy and open hearts and minds. It will require working together on solutions that put everyone’s fears to rest. It cannot be about winners and losers. Which is also why the solutions will not come out of Washington, D.C. or state capitals; they are currently beyond the ability to listen and work together.
Within our communities, we must create a virus of good will and understanding that will overcome the anger, hatred, and divisiveness that has infected our country.
We all need to stop making demands and trying to negotiate outcomes. Instead, we must develop solutions that are generated and supported by the entire community working together. Only then will we have solutions to which everyone is committed. To do otherwise is to have people waiting to renegotiate their demands when in a place of greater power.
Within our communities, we can become the example of collaborative problem solving that brings real change. That change can then spread outside the halls of politics until those in office either get on board or get replaced. But it all starts with you, and me, and our neighbors listening to one another, empathizing with one another, and finding the common goals through which collaborative solutions can flow.
We needn’t agree on everything, but we need to at least agree to respect each other as we strive for the best community possible for all our citizens. Those in power, including political parties and elected officials, benefit from division to retain their power. Don’t let them fool you into believing they have the answer. The answer will come from us, the people, working together for the good of our communities.
A Boomer who joined the Army during the Cold War and continues to serve. Kevin spent 30-plus years working in K-12 education as a teacher, administrator, and consultant. His book, Know Power, Know Responsibility, provides the imperatives for a complete redesign of schools and the way to get there.