We’ve been told, from time to time, that what we need is a ‘national conversation’ on race. To be sure, even after fifty years of civil rights enshrined in Federal law, there are still issues and problems to be resolved.
But then I get the sense that I would be unwelcome at such a conversation because, well, I’m not black. And the conversation would have certain ground rules, like:
- Only white people can be racist.
- In fact, all white people are racist, whether they care to admit it or not.
- It is offensive, and therefore forbidden, to:
- Cite statistics or other facts that are contrary to the narrative of racist discrimination;
- Point out that many of the problems of the black community are in fact faced by all Americans;
- Make light of the issues involved for rhetorical effect;
- Challenge the ground rules.
To heck with that.
And I’m not black.
So let me start with what I know.
Michael Brown and Eric Garner confronted police over what were ultimately minor issues, and died at the hands of police as a result. Two years ago, Trayvon Martin, while visiting another neighborhood, had a confrontation with a resident of that neighborhood, who shot and killed him.
I know, as a white person, from my own experience, that if I confronted police as Eric Garner or Michael Brown did, or a resident of a neighborhood where I was visiting, like Trayvon Martin did, I would not expect to remain unscathed. I know that it would be extraordinarily dangerous, and I might even be putting my life at risk.
So I wouldn’t do that.
And I understood that concept from sometime when I was in elementary school. I didn’t learn it in high school or college, or even from elementary school: it was something that seeped in from my observation of the world around me as I was growing up.
So why did these three men have these confrontations?
If I were to say that it was because they were black, that would be racist. It would also be preposterous: I know many people, of all races and colors, who would agree that confronting the police, or a resident of a neighborhood where you didn’t live, is foolish at best and can be fatal at worst.
But if these men weren’t motivated to confrontation by race, what was it?
I tend to believe the reasons are cultural. the three men were brought up in a different culture, with a different set of rules, that admitted confrontation for confrontation’s sake as useful and necessary. But that’s my speculation at a distance, and may or may not be correct.
In any case, we need to understand, not so that we can flagellate our inner racist and throw money at the problem, but because it will get far worse, and not better, unless all of us strive to address it.