How can we have happiness now?
Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that. ~ Martin Luther King, Jr.
I’m going to take a left turn tonight, I’ve resisted the inclination for the ten years that I’ve been writing this blog to write about anything political or controversial. Only recently have I, under an extraordinary reality, begun to write about anything other than the base concept of having a happier life. Those have been my COVID Times Diary posts. Tonight I’m going to take some latitude with that core happiness mission and expand it to a grand concept. That concept is for our entire society in America, to be happier. As I’m writing this blog tonight, America is not only in the midst of a coronavirus pandemic but also undergoing some of the largest scale racial justice protests since the 1960’s.
Let me start with a simple statement. For America as a whole to be a happier place, there has to be less racism, more equality and equity in our society, including in the very structure of all of its institutions.
Why are people protesting and rioting? Is it for justice for George Floyd who was killed by a Minneapolis police officer? For some people yes. Have there been peaceful protests about this, absolutely. There have also been a lot of violent riots and looting going on around the protests. These types of protests have been occurring my entire life around the same issues. From the Watts riots in the 60’s through the Rodney King beating inspired riots in the early 90’s, until today. One of the things you can always count on during these times of protest and turmoil, is that there will be instigators of violence. Within these protests there are without a doubt, ANTIFA and other leftist trouble makers and anarchists. Almost certainly there are white supremacist instigators trying to push the country into the race war that they feel is an inevitability and will lead to the race separation, white America fantasy that they dream of at night.
Like the inevitable thoughts and prayers proclamations that come out after a mass shooting. The response to times of protest and violence have their own standard rhythm. First there will be calls for calm from political leaders. This will be paired with statements of understanding and how all of society must work together to get better. In police violence cases, there may be an initial charge or investigation, but far too often, like in the Freddie Gray case, the officers are either acquitted or have their charges dropped. The family of the victim at some point will ask for calm and peaceful protest, religious leaders will do the same. The political right will of course scream about ANTIFA and the violent left, the political left will blame the president and the political right for their inflammatory rhetoric and actions. At some point, the political right will blame George Soros, which quite honestly is just code for the old racist idea that the Jews are at fault. In the end, heavy levels of law enforcement, the National Guard and eventually protest fatigue will calm things down. Then, much like we do with gun violence, we will do very little and talk very much, and then simply move on until frustration rises and it happens all over again in the future.
So what are the protestors in the street actually asking for? If it were simply justice for George Floyd then the fact that the office has been indicted should put everything on hold and calm the streets. But as we can see, that was not the case. And the reason that was not the case is that, justice for George Floyd is not the issue. Police violence against people of color and their unfair treatment by law enforcement is only a symptom. There absolutely are good cops out there, and they have a terribly difficult and dangerous job. Unfortunately in every department, there are also racist cops and the law enforcement culture far too often reinforces the negative attitudes and stereotypes that the worst of them believe. But again, the police aren’t the root of the problem, they are a symptom of the real issue.
So what is the real issue, it’s racism. Racism reinforces and exacerbates income disparity, inequity and inequality in our country. It leads to lower levels of education, wealth and success. It fuels these and other issues that also lead to higher levels of negative health issues like high blood pressure, heart disease and diabetes. With lower levels of home ownership and wealth, higher unemployment and poorer health, hope is harder to come by. Under these conditions, anger and frustration build and so it’s not surprising that in a time when we are facing a global pandemic all you need is a trigger. That trigger has come in the form of the deaths of two unarmed black men in the last couple of weeks. One, hunted down by racists vigilantes while jogging in Georgia, a second killed by a police officer in public. Both events horrifically displayed on the internet for all to see. This racism is generally directed primarily at non-white people in this country. But how we, as a society, even define white is often racist in itself.
Racism pervades every aspect of our society. It is wholly and simply a learned behavior. Children have to be taught that people that don’t look like them are bad or less. Racism is both as simple and complex as that. Simple in that we absolutely know how it happens, but complicated because it does happen and now pervades our entire society. It can be changed, things can, and have gotten better. We see racism in the most subtle ways in our society. You have a discussion with a relative, they are upset about a delivery. They talk first about the UPS driver and the delivery they made. Then, they talk about the FedEx driver, he’s black, and the delivery he made. Without a doubt, you know that the UPS driver was white, because they didn’t feel the need to describe their color. That tiny thing is unconscious and ubiquitous and mostly unnoticed and not called out in society. But when you’re on the pointed end of that comment, again and again and again, you know you’re thought of as different, as less than.
Things have gotten better in America over time for everyone. Everyone, save some convicted felons, have the right to vote. Yes, gerrymandering and voter suppression is an issue, but no longer do armed white men sit at polling places denying the ability of minorities to vote. Women are no longer considered the property of their fathers and husbands, there are still equity gaps to be addressed but they’re smaller. Although not enough representation exists, we see women and minorities as CEO’s , head coaches, team owners, speakers of the house, college presidents, presidential and vice-presidential candidates and even as the President of the United States.
I point these examples out for a simple reason, if progress has been made, I have to believe that more progress can occur. But progress is slow, progress is change, so it’s resisted. But if we ever truly want to address the issue of these type of social justice demonstrations that can turn violent, these issues have to be addressed in a fundamental way. This means not only each of us making changes in our own life. But it means fundamental structural changes need to be made to all of the systems in our country. There is no magic bullet or policy that does this. It will not happen over night, but if we make obvious steps forward in addressing these issues, if we show the progress being made and that it’s real, we diffuse the anger and frustration that leads to these tragic events.
I know this is hard, just look at the NFL’s recent efforts to make changes to the Rooney Rule to try and increase the number of minority head coaches and executives in the NFL. But either we do the hard thing and make the world better, and happier, or we don’t and we will again and again watch violence erupt, homes, cars and business burn and people die in the streets at the hands of cops and protestors. The choice is completely ours.
Let me finish this piece the way I started it.
For America as a whole to be a happier place, there has to be less racism, more equality and equity in our society, including in the very structure of all of its institutions.
Let’s hope for a happier day my friends. ~ Rev Kane