I’m a straight, middle-class white male in America, and I’m really uncomfortable.
Right now, that’s how it should be.
After all, we endured another tough week in America with police shootings, protest marches and snipers dominating the headlines. Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton continue to dig into their positions even as their advisors try to dig them out of the holes they keep falling into.
Still reeling from the senseless shootings in Orlando, the rash of controversial police shootings have forced us to confront hot-button issues that challenge our faith in the system. In short, it challenges people in my demographic to assess their role in creating the change we need.
Police shootings caught on camera and shared through social media highlight the uncomfortable realization that these types of overreaches have probably been going on for a long time. Instagram and Twitter are replete with memes demonizing either the cops who overreacted or the citizens who refused to follow orders in moments of high tension. There is precious little common ground in this polarizing rush to judgment, and that rarely leads to effective action.
With each successive generation, we break down more of the walls that exist between people in this country and therefore expose ourselves to differences we never knew existed. On the other hand, this is a nation founded on a difference of opinion and forged in the fire of diversity. We continue to be the greatest social experiment in human history, the longest-running democracy in constant pursuit of the ideals laid out in our Declaration of Independence. We’ve slowly peeled back layer after layer of injustice in that pursuit, from the abolition of slavery, to the introduction of women’s suffrage, through the fight against segregation and Jim
Crow laws, and onto the fight for gay, lesbian and transgender rights, among others. Democracy is a process, a moving target rather than a fixed goal. The national discourse over racial inequities regarding law enforcement is a necessary component of maintaining the American way of life. Rather than viewing the Black Lives Matter protests as exclusionary, for instance, I see them as a targeted response to imbalances our system has fostered for centuries. In the end, fighting for equality is the rising tide that raises all boats. If one doesn’t like the Black Lives Matter movement, render it unnecessary by addressing the legitimate concerns it raises.
I’m a straight, middle-class white male in America. I don’t know the pain of those who’ve faced discrimination all their lives. Instead, I’m a teacher. I know that walls don’t appear out of thin air; they are built, brick by brick, through a concerted, coordinated effort to separate. I’m an imperfect vessel to tackle the endless ramifications of racial, religious, and economic disparity. Instead, I try to expose these injustices at their roots because teachers are charged with educating kids to scale those walls in the hopes of one day rendering them useless. We are carpenters, not masons. We’re meant to teach children to fashion ways in which to live comfortably inside the world they create, not to define and limit it for them.
Society needs to return to the logic of childhood: play fair and think of others. Law enforcement needs to do a better job of identifying those in their midst who don’t demonstrate the right temperament or training for this critical civil service. Police officials can and must do a better job of responding to the frustrations of their communities. At the same time, citizens need to respect the delicate dance of law enforcement while reforms are being made. One cannot break the law and then decide the terms on which he or she will be held accountable when innocent lives are at risk.
In the interim, we need to feel uncomfortable because change is a discomforting process. The danger behind trite slogans like “Make America Great Again” is the underlying belief that at one point we’d already reached our potential. We haven’t … yet. I believe we will because I believe in the greatness of our country’s reach, the desire of its citizens to aspire to the very best of the human experience.
We wait for that rising tide with the realization that the bigger the ship, the greater the turning radius; change takes time. This difficulty is also the sign of a working democracy. I’m a straight, middle-class white male in America, and I’m really uncomfortable. Right now, that’s how it must be.
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