Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Can We Learn to get Along?

I rarely make social commentary on this blog; its purpose is to help writers and readers make literary choices. But given the spate of news coverage from Ferguson, Missouri and other parts of the country, I offer another voice.

What causes these ubiquitous conflicts? What happened in Ferguson joins the long line of civil unrest: the bus boycotts, the assassinations of civil rights leaders, Rodney King, and a litany of black teenagers gunned down by police. It goes back to the Civil War. Are these clashes based on racism? Police brutality? A breakdown of values? They are all of the above and more.

Civil unrest is not limited to race. Granted, our white ancestors created racial issues through claiming and colonizing this country, and later through its inhumane treatment of importing people as slaves to bolster the economy. By not recognizing Native Americans and the imported Africans as human beings with viable cultures, and thrusting a “superior” set of western values on these “savages,” we set ourselves up for conflict.  Yet our history of discord is not limited to race. Consider Suffragists, Kent State riots and more recently, the influx of school shootings.

The evening of the 9/11 attacks, I was teaching a class at the university. Surprisingly, all my students showed up, yet they were uncommonly sedate. One of my students raised her hand, and asked, “Why do they hate us?”

Its human nature to surround ourselves with the familiar. The known commodities, the shared values of those who think and act like us. When we step outside our comfort, the natural reaction is fear.

Officer Darren Wilson and Michael Brown did not know one another, so neither had knowledge of the other man’s intent. A stranger in a uniform carrying a loaded weapon yelling at you on the street , especially when you know you have just committed a misdemeanor, can elicit fear. What is this man’s intent?

Yet the officer also does not know this young man who had the advantage of youth and standing upright rather than being seated. What is this man’s intent?

Had these men known one another, known the others’ backgrounds and merits, this confrontation likely could have been resolved peacefully. Were there community outreach programs for police officers to get to know the youth in the community? Does the community fear the men and women hired to protect and serve?

Many of you will call me naive and idealistic. And you’re right. There are no easy answers, yet we have become increasingly isolated, hiding behind our phones and Facebook postings, avoiding face to face contact.

The economic divide grows wider every day. A lot of people are pissed off, and the frontal lobes of our brains react with road rage, riots and uncharacteristic reactions. The question we need to ask ourselves now is: how can we prevent this from happening again? 

Happy Thanksgiving.