I no doubt have too much time on my hands to really think about the state of the world, particularly the state of my nation. We are quite troubled these days, not just with Covid-19 but with the issues that have surfaced and bubbled over after the horrific death of George Floyd. In the annals of history this will no doubt be a defining moment along with Rosa Park’s refusal to give up her seat on a Montgomery, Alabama bus. Perhaps because of, rather than in spite of the pandemic a cry of historic pain has risen from our Black Americans from sea to shining sea. Like Rosa Parks they are too tired to simply move to the back of the bus one more time, but unlike with Rosa Parks there does not appear to be a carefully crafted plan associated with the protests. As a result the reactions and the demands are fueled by pure emotion that is so all over the place that I fear that the things that need to be done will be pushed aside by minuscule victories like making Juneteenth a national holiday or rebranding Aunt Jemima products.
I am not Black and cannot even pretend to fathom the racism and associated injustices that they continue to endure. I can only empathize with my Black friends and neighbors and former students and interpret what they are telling us needs to happen. In my thinking the biggest issues should be restructuring and perhaps redefining the criminal justice system, strengthening the educational system for minorities, ensuring that quality healthcare is available to all, and making the effort to really hear and understand the voices and the needs of our Black citizens.
Sadly I sense that because there is little coherent national leadership in the Black Lives Matter movement the organic movement is all over the map concerning with regard to what is most important to accomplish. The deeds of those who loot and destroy do little for the cause as well. While I understand the depth of frustration and anger that leads to such behavior, the actions tend to divert attention from the true needs and place the entire movement in a negative light with those who are looking for a rationale for ignoring them or even shutting them down. There was a reason that Dr. King and the leaders of the civil rights movement of the fifties and sixties insisted on nonviolent, passive resistance. They knew that they needed to win the hearts and minds of enough of a majority to bring about concrete and meaningful change. Those who lead this most important movement must do their best to disassociate themselves from theft and vandalism because even though such happenings are not representative they are being used to justify ignoring the real issues.
What began as a move to rid our country of Confederate flags and monuments to leaders of the Confederacy has unraveled as well. Now almost any American historical figure is fair game. When things go too far, as they are doing in some cases, people lose patience with the cause. Burning the flag and spitting on soldiers returning from Vietnam did little to help the anti-war movement of the 1960s. It only gave ammunition to those who were already unwilling to consider the earnest perspectives of young people who wanted the unpopular war to stop. So too it is with BLM. Someone in charge needs to put out the word that it is best to keep the focus on the systemic changes rather than to get carried away with taking down inanimate objects. Already President Trump is giddily using such things to turn a segment of the American population against the BLM movement and to shore up his own chances for reelection. A wise group would not provide him with the ammunition to do so. Ignoring him quietly and totally would be a far more powerful tactic. The focus has to return to the kinds of changes that are most important and only strategic planning and leadership will accomplish what must be done. There is the very real threat that the president will rally enough support to dash the hopes of the entire Black Lives Matter movement just at the moment when their is worldwide support for the cause.
At the beginning of all of this one of my Black former students messaged me and said that he needed some of my understanding and gift for calming him because he was so very angry. I do indeed believe that our Black citizens have many reasons for being extremely mad. It is so apparent that their cause is being distorted by those who would rather not have to think about the issues that have risen once again. It is truly tough to be honest enough to see that many of our nation’s ideals are tarnished by the history of slavery and racism. Too often we have tamped down the injustice toward Black in America with minimal stop gap changes and then hoped that the unrest would vanish. In many ways this time feels quite different and I believe that it can be if there is a real plan for making the much needed changes without upending even those aspects of our history that are in fact good. It is important for all Americans to think of how it feels to be viewed through a narrow lens. If nothing else we need to remember what it felt like to be punished by a teacher too lazy to differentiate between recalcitrant students and those who were attempting to do the right thing.
I sincerely suggest that the Black Lives Matter movement enlist the help of leaders, lawmakers, educators, doctors, ministers, students and ordinary citizens to become the voices of the change they wish to see in our country. They need to develop a plan and seek support from everyone in maintaining focus on what is most important. I fear that without such guidelines the forces against them will run as rampant as Covid-19 and they will lose the momentum that has garnered so many new insights in people who heretofore did not understand. Our Black citizens all too often must endure treatment that none of the rest of us would find acceptable only because of the color of their skin. I pray that this is indeed the moment when meaningful and long overdue change will occur but I also fear that without coherence and leadership it will only end in the reelection of a man who has no compassion for the cause and a citizenry that forces us to just go back to what they see as normal. Our Black citizens should reach for the moon this time, but remember that they must first begin with a plan.