For what seems like longer than usual, those protesting the deaths of Mike Brown, Eric Garner and the seemingly growing list of African-American men who have died at the hands of police officers have sustained and gained momentum. People of all ages, races and geographic locations have not halted their cries for justice, and this is a good thing. But, in an age where discrimination is illegal and the justice system is allegedly blind, just what does that look like?
I had this conversation with someone who have a vested interest in this movement—a young African-American male. I wondered and asked, what exactly is the call to action beyond the march and movement for change? His comments still have me pondering the potential outcome of these efforts. He pointed out that during the Civil Rights movement, there were two things: a collective agenda and an effort to change the law. Desegregation was divisive, and sent many blacks scattering to the comfort of their respective corners which are not always occupied by others who look like them. What some want, others don’t; and, the paths to reach certain goals are now as varied as those who champion for them.
Then, there is the law. Discrimination based on race, ethnicity, gender or religious beliefs or practices is illegal. No more signs refusing service to blacks, who can now walk in the front door with everyone else. But, once they get there they are subject to the personal and sometimes prejudicial perspectives and subsequent actions of those therein. Sometimes, those actions are as subtle as being ignored; other times, they may result in a 911 call fueled by an innate fear that society continues to perpetuate.
So, what is the ask today of those marching? My young man was quite clear and definitive in saying that what is being asked for involves changing a personal opinion, a perception and an abandonment of a prejudicial thought or opinion. Who can change that?
While the election of President Obama as the first black president (half-black to those who still can’t accept the 1/3 rule) was supposed to validate a post racial society, it still doesn’t exist. Sure, we see white people who want to use the N-word because…well, blacks use it, and commercials openly show bi-racial couples and children, but the reality is that any blog or social media forum will give you a completely different—and scary—insight into some of the heartfelt perspectives and opinions still held (and thus acted upon) about people of color.
The real issue here isn’t about the police, even though they are at the forefront of this challenge. The real issue is that people still harbor personal opinions and prejudices based on ignorance that become evident in their job performances. We see this from sales clerks to corporate executives. Good people make good professionals; unbiased people make the same. But, this can be achieved only through exposure and experiences that create a more tolerant person and community. And, unless everyone marching is taking time to really get to know each other in the effort, I am not sure what else will result.