I’ve spent a lot of time this past week talking about racism. The conversations began with wondering why, the murder of George Floyd last week sparked protests nationwide when the killing of Eric Garner, in 2014 did not. Then when the looting began, the conversation turned to one about fear.
As a teenager in 1968, when protestors were attacked by the police during the democratic convention and later at universities, I felt solidarity. Friends tell me their teenage and young adult children feel similarly now.
For me, today, it is more complicated. It’s a conversation about the increasing divide between the haves and the have-nots. It’s a conversation about violence. And, as I have come to realize, most importantly, it is a conversation about racism.
As a country, we are reluctant to talk about race and even more unwilling to talk about racism. And yet we must if we are ever to understand our fellow Americans. When the “enemy” is nameless and faceless, it is easy to hate. On the other hand, when we talk to one another and begin to understand that the “other” is not the enemy, rather s/he is just different from me, we can learn from and understand one another.
As a Jew, when I watched the Unite the Right Rally in Charlottesville, VA in August of 2017, I heard my mother’s words to me as a child, telling me that anyone who isn’t Jewish is deep down anti-Semitic, and wondered if she were right?
Today, I hear, “all white people are deep down racist, and police officers, in particular, are racist,” and I wonder if this is true?
And, as one who believes in the general good of humanity, I don’t want to believe any of this is so. And yet, something is clearly wrong.
Some say this is a seminal moment and that Mr. Floyd’s murder is a catalyst for change that is long overdue. I hope so.
And because we humans relate to stories, here are two I heard this week that will always stay with me.
Dr. Julius Few, an intensely private man and a prominent Plastic Surgeon practicing in Chicago and Los Angeles, decided to share his story on Instagram. Dr. Few grew up in a wealthy white suburb of Detroit. While his parents weren’t wealthy, they worked hard to live in this community to provide him and his brother what they believed was an opportunity. Instead, unbeknownst to his parents, he was a victim of racism every day. Dr. Few’s video story appears in two parts:
A dear friend of mine, an accomplished, highly educated business person, told me that when he was a teenager growing up in a middle-class neighborhood in Chicago, he was walking down the street one day, and several police officers suddenly came upon him, guns pointed. They told him he “looked like” a man that had just held up a liquor store. While they were holding him down, they got a call on the radio, and then abruptly left.
My friend told me he had forgotten about this until the current situation reminded him. “Forgot or buried it,” he wondered out loud. Of course, as you probably guessed, my friend is black. The saddest irony of this story is that my friend’s father was a police officer who died in the line of duty, not so many years later.
For me, these two stories remind us that we must take time to follow the guidance from Steven Covey and seek first to understand.
Here are a couple of resources I found this week to begin my learning:
- A powerful and heartfelt response to George Floyd, Minneapolis Protests, Ahmaud Arbery & Amy Cooper, by Trevor Noah.
- White Fragility: Why It’s So Hard for White People to Talk About Racism by Robin DiAngelo.