What’s it like to be black in America? Or a police officer? Or an immigrant? I don’t know. Do you?
Growing up white, male, and in the suburbs, I can’t possibly know what it is like to be black in America. My mother’s second husband sure did show me what it’s like to be a white, poorly educated, racist, lazy, and abusive asshole though. He taught me how to be a man by serving as the example of what not to be, and he remains living proof that racism is alive and well in America. (Mom is now remarried to a super-awesome guy, the role model I needed when I was a kid.)
I also can’t possibly know what it is like to be a police officer in America. My daughter’s friend’s father is a cop, though, patrolling the tougher areas of Oxnard, California, during the night shift. Alone. Responding to call after call for help with fewer than 10 other patrol officers on duty to respond to requests for back-up assistance. And it takes, on average, 12 loooooong minutes for a back-up officer to arrive. The calls for help come primarily from lower income neighborhoods populated mainly by Latinos and Afro-Americans, and so this white officer largely interacts with members of different races and cultures, often with people who do not welcome his presence, and often with people who taunt him with threats of lawsuits should he exercise any force whatsoever, whether or not it is excessive.
Because I was born in Michigan to parents who were born in Michigan, I can’t possibly know what it is like to be an immigrant in America. However, I married a woman who was born overseas and came to the U.S. when she was a child. She struggled with the language. She struggled with the culture. She struggled with societal acceptance. And she is an absolutely amazing person for these struggles, a smart, funny, sensitive, and beautiful woman with a strong sense of social justice. For these reasons, and more, I adore her.
Black lives matter. Latino lives matter. The lives of the oppressed, the downtrodden, the poor, the people who are not exactly like the person we see in the mirror — they all matter, even if they are faceless.
Too often, the dominant American sociopolitical state of affairs overlooks this. On occasion, the people who feel forgotten rise up, retaliate, and remind us that they’ve been forgotten, that they still need help, and that they matter. And when society breaks down in this manner, then yes, we are also reminded that blue lives matter.
I don’t have the answers.
What I do know is that it is just as unacceptable for citizens to target the police with violence as it is for the police to target citizens with violence.
What I do know is that it is not easy to come to America from somewhere else, without the language skills, without the education, and without looking or sounding like Barbie or Ken.
What I do know is that America is already a great, if flawed, nation, rich in terms of its collective wealth, its diversity, and its ingenuity.
Americans have the money, and the people, and the intelligence to create a society in which all citizens and people aspiring to become citizens can, if they really want to, follow well-defined pathways to success. But do Americans have the will to do something about it?
Americans have the money, and the people, and the intelligence to create a society in which all citizens and people aspiring to become citizens can enjoy a greater amount of safety within their communities. But do Americans have the will to do something about it?
Americans have the money, and the people, and the intelligence to create a society in which all citizens and people aspiring to become citizens can enjoy freedom of religious expression and sexual orientation, a minimum standard of healthcare, and options aside from college that can lead to rewarding, satisfying careers.
Careers like that of a police officer.
But do they have the will to do something about it?
My daughter’s friend’s father became a cop because he wanted to help make our little part of the greater metropolitan Los Angeles area safer for its citizens and people aspiring to become citizens. The first time he put a bad guy away, he felt the sense of pride and satisfaction that comes with serving people and a purpose much greater than you.
He had the will to do something for the betterment of society.
In Milwaukee, following a weekend of societal uprising against the police, 45 new recruits were sworn in to serve and protect the city’s citizens and people aspiring to become citizens. These are exceptionally brave people.
They have the will to do something for the betterment of society.
Racism exists. Sexism exists. Ageism exists. Discrimination exists. Ignorance exists. As a result, bullying exists. Ostracism exists. Resentment exists. Hopelessness exists. Fear exists.
They exist in all of us, to some degree or another, whether we want to admit it or not. Rather than bury our heads in the sand, or point fingers to level blame, or hope that lawmakers and government officials will magically fix it, let’s realize that we need to solve this on our own, individually, by transforming these negative thoughts and feelings into positive forces for good and for the benefit of our entire society.
I don’t have the answers. But I have the will to do my best to fight against these repugnant aspects of the human condition at every opportunity.