Next Stage:Another View of the Michael Brown Story
October 15, 2014Are you tired of hearing about the killing of Michael Brown in Fulton Missouri like the woman I overheard last week complaining to her friend. She went on to say, that she didn’t understand why it was such a big deal, “he stole something from the convenience store anyway.” Did he? I think there is some question about that accusation and certainly taking a candy bar does not equate to murder.
Our reactions to this news story may depend on our own race. A July CBS News poll reported in the New York Times reported that although three –fourths of the respondents believe that progress has been made to get rid of racial discrimination, most respondents acknowledge that discrimination against blacks still exists. But the perceptions of blacks and whites differ significantly in rating the level of discrimination. Of the white respondents, 65 percent agree that there is “a lot” or “some” discrimination while 88 percent of blacks state that discrimination reaches “some” or “a lot”. If you are white, you are more likely to believe that blacks and whites have an equal chance of getting ahead, or you may even believe blacks have a better chance because of affirmative action.
I personally can’t accept that blacks and whites have reached parity in opportunities to get ahead. I have heard too many stories of discrimination. Yes, we have come a long way in overcoming our history of slavery but the images and stereotypes are still there. Even the President of the United States has been called racist epithets. Our slave history influences the recognition we give racial differences in the blink of any eye which stimulates the unconscious biases we have absorbed regarding race. Those unconscious biases can lead us to unconscious discrimination before we have made any conscious intentional effort to treat someone equally.
Let’s return to the woman whose conversation I overheard. Why should she care about what happened in Fulton? Why should you or I care? Because we have a system of government based on equality before the law? Because our values tell us to be caring and compassionate? Or maybe because we are paying a high price for the incarceration of black men in our nation’s prisons reflecting the poverty, unemployment, crime and social and family disruption that we want to ignore in our comfortable middle class neighborhoods.
I believe we can no longer afford to be silent, to ignore the inequities of race and poverty. I was particularly moved by a TED talk by Clint Smith, an educator who spoke about The Danger of Silence. He quotes Martin Luther King, in a 1968 speech reflecting on the Civil Rights Movement, “In the end, we will remember not the words of our enemies but the silence of our friends." As Smith suggests, silence is Katrina, genocide in Rwanda or the homeless man on the street. I also think that silence is dismissing the tragedy of shooting an unarmed young man, the increasing poverty and economic disparity in our communities, the pain of homophobic jokes, repeating unfounded racial judgments and our own internal condemnation of anyone who has failed to pull themselves into a life in the middle class.
I know that neither you nor I can immediately solve the larger challenges of our time. You, like I, may often feel helpless in the enormity of the issues. But, we can look within, search for understanding, learn about the lives of others, listen to different views, find compassion and open our hearts. That internal work is necessary before we can take action.
Then we can take action to join with others who continue to work on the issues of social and economic justice. Superstar singer Alicia Keys was recently moved to form a grass roots effort the www.WeAreHereMovement.com to support twelve organizations working on issues of racism, injustice and poverty. And there are many options in our own communities. Let’s do our internal work and then take action.
Bev is the founder and creator of The 3rd Act whose mission is to support positive aging. She writes about the issues and challenges of the boomer and traditional generations. She is currently focused on writing fiction based on the story of her paternal grandparents, her first novel. She has served as an internal organization and management consultant for over 35 years, taught organizational psychology and established an external consulting and coaching practice. She published the second edition of, Consulting on the Inside co-authored with Kim Barnes in 2011. Bev is now in what she considers Scene 3 of her own third act, and enjoys creating and writing the script. For more information go to www.bevscott.com or www.the3rdact.com.