In all the years of writing weekly letters, this is the first two pager in memory. It flies in the face of my one-page-is-plenty approach.
And it’s not often I overly moralize – and not usually on a single topic – since Ellen and Reid are old enough to make up their own minds and form their own decisions and adopt their own beliefs. Yet I have my beliefs, too, and they both need to know where and why I stand on certain issues.
So what went on in Charlotte in recent days deserved two pages – and maybe three.
September 25, 2016
Ellen/Reid: I scribbled some notes earlier last week about thoughts for today’s letter, and then the police shooting and subsequent unrest in Charlotte went down and my earlier ideas went out the window.
The rest of the nation saw and condemned the violence, yet to me it speaks to something much larger, and far darker, about how we tend to grapple – but not really – with racism and bigotry and economics and guns and public education as underlying factors. I think to view this only in the context of a shooting is very short sighted and disingenuous to the black community, and in some ways, to law enforcement, too.
I know, the victim here likely had a gun and yes, the police are in a predicament with only seconds to pass judgment and take action. I get that. But that judgment tends to fall against the black person in virtually 100 percent of cases. Obviously I’m no authority on how to disarm/disable someone, but part of me wonders if the kill shot is always a necessity of first resort. Our military in the Middle East has rules of engagement in equally, if not far more dangerous, in circumstances where the foe is trying to kill our forces. Still, the mandate is not always shoot to kill first. I don’t know what the answer is but we have to find it. I do feel the black community is seen with a different set of eyes than whites. I do.
What bothers me much more is what I perceive as a greater undercurrent of racism that still exists. I know because I brought some with me to the South. I wrestle with my own sense of racism and bigotry. Anyone who tells you we’ve mostly got it licked is just not dealing in reality. It exists and it is real here and I see it and I feel it inside and outside of Charlotte. The other night I went to a post-shooting discussion at Caldwell (I’m telling you, John is just one hell of a reverend/leader because that man and that little church and its mixed race congregation forced me to face my own very real prejudices) and as people spoke it occurred to me that any perceived national racial gains trumpeted in the past 50 years really haven’t been because the hearts and minds of the people have been swayed, but largely because we’ve legislated and regulated – rightly so, I think – removal of overt race situations as best we could. Still, the war for the hearts and minds has yet to be won and may not be even close to being won. I told the group of my pessimism on that score.
Sure, there’s no way to rationally condone violence yet it seems to me the first reaction of the white community is to condemn the violence as a way regain a peaceful status quo that reflects what whites so desire. We – whites, that is – don’t follow up, however, with real solutions, plausible solutions, that underlie racism in the first place. We tell blacks to calm down but we don’t get at, let alone identify with or talk about for however long it takes, what can make us a truly integrated nation. We have not won over the hearts and minds of the people. It’s not just a faith based answer, it’s not a legislative or regulatory answer, it is some other societal and cultural answer whereby people accept all others – blacks, hispanics, Middle Easterners – on equal footing. Victory is not ours and likely won’t be in my lifetime until the hearts and minds of people change at a basel level. Instead, we blast or label people as niggers or Mexis or lazy bastards or takers or entitled or dirty immigrants. Or worse. Enough with the labels already. What about the good people we haughtily tell to ‘just try harder’ when the playing field isn’t just not level, it’s tilted beyond repair?
The three of us can’t really put ourselves in the life that blacks endure. I do believe that America has quietly and perpetually instituted a permanent black and poor white and non-native underclass. And it’s not just a Southern thing. It’s not just about the shootings or Welfare or a black culture of baggy pants and hairstyles some of us don’t understand or are scared of. God, it’s just so much more than that. But now that the rioting has quieted down to the relief of those in power, what the hell are we – all of us – going to do about it right now, today, so 10 – 20 – 30 years from now we’re not arguing and bitching and fighting and rioting and finger pointing about the same things?
I know this sounds simplistic, but Ellen, we’ve got to get back to basics and you and other teachers ought to lead the way. I think much of this riddle has to do with non-voucher public education and the earlier the better. We’ve got to get kids off on the right foot and keep them there. There’s not a helluva lot we can do about their set-in-their-ways parents; the hell with the parents if they don’t support that. But for Christ sake, let’s deal with the problem and the issues and the perceptions from the get-go. It’s an American value, and we’ve got to restore it. Those who would disagree with me might dismiss me and couch it only in a dollars-and-cents equation but there’s going to be hell to pay at more than one waypoint down the road. The anger and the frustrations will continue and it’s not something you cover with a bandaid and hope the open wound heals on its own.
All of this has really bothered me yet I’ve got my own mountains yet to climb, attitude-wise. I feel like Sisyphus pushing his eternal rock. If last week in Charlotte didn’t give Southerners of any stripe a reason to re-think how we are as a society, then we’ll have learned nothing. We asked blacks to calm down, and for the most part they did. Now, what are the rest of us gonna do about it?