This issue of racial tension, stemming from decades of social attitudes and growing economic inequality, is nothing new, as I’m sure a few of you understand only too well. It exists for African Americans as well as several other minorities in this country, from immigrants to women.
As a half-Hispanic male who clearly has and continues to benefit from the whiter half of my privilege, I am largely insulated from the struggles we are seeing, so it is difficult for me to fully appreciate all that is happening. Having the distinction of having a mixed family, however, and I too often hear firsthand the real and heartbreaking challenges.
It is all terrible, unfair, and sad.
How did we get here? Things today are so much better than when I was a kid, and far better than when my parents were young. We have achieved gay marriage, legalized marijuana, female representation in congress and the senate, a black president … all achievements (albeit only incremental) that were unimaginable in my early years.
So what the hell happened?
In reality, the social and cultural advances of the past few decades are in large part due to the activism of an entire generation, and it took that long to see progress. I think my generation had a unique voice that benefiting from expanded media options, and our voices shifted cultural norms, both good and bad, but at the very least progressive, and altered the social fabric indelibly.
Unfortunately, I think a great many of us got complacent, thinking that things were heading in the right direction. We stopped role-modeling and emphasizing the importance of voting and civic engagement with youth and even stopped voting ourselves. We thought we had momentum. Clearly, we did not.
Now, online-reach has provided intolerance and ignorance a blow horn that can be laser-focused and highly effective. I honestly believe these voices are in the minority, but they are the loudest and the most threatening. They have influence and they have power, and they attract ignorance and fear. They are pushing us backwards.
What this all means is that we, and specifically you as the next vibrant generation who will inherit this mess, need to be active agents for change now.
More important, I think you need to understand that this movement and any change will take time and non-stop perseverance. The actions being undertaken right now are not going to magically change society overnight, or this month, or this year. Possibly not even this decade. It will, and always has, taken generations.
What I see is encouraging, however, with so many young people courageously wearing their activism on their sleeves, proudly online and through social media. You talk to each other, console each other, and eloquently express feelings that influence each other. It has the effect of saying, “I understanding you. I am with you.”
You are in the majority, but you must not quit. You must not become complacent.
And while I get aggravated by people calling out and shaming others for only taking action on social media, I believe loud social media voices do have the power to influence, just as racism and prejudice have taken root through the very same mediums.
But social media posts are not enough. We do need to be more active and step out from behind the keyboard. With that said, violence, rioting, and attacking police and those who do not agree with you, is not the answer. I’m sorry, but I am less-tolerant in that I see this violence as driving a wedge between the sides. I understand rage and the emotion behind it, but violence does not and will not change the underlying problems.
We cannot burn and kill our way to an end, and even if this was the solution, it is no better a society than we have now.
So what will affect change? Education, activism and voting.
Education in understanding how these problems are influenced by bigger picture influences. A few bad police do not represent the mindsets of all public servants, any more than a few looters represent the attitudes of all protesters. We must stop looking at things side-versus-side, black-versus-white.
Our issues stem from social, information and economic inequality, corrupt unions and special interest groups, gerrymandering and the electoral college, money in politics, and a host of other things that are just too difficult for many to wrap their arms around.
But you must understand them to understand what needs to be changed and how to change it. Protesting works well for awareness, but not for enacting change. Real change requires an entirely new level of problem-solving.
I do not pretend to know the answers to this, but what I can tell you is what I am doing.
- I am talking, now more than I have, to show my support and raise awareness.
- I am listening, to voices unlike mine, those that might make me uncomfortable, but that will help me empathize.
- I am voting, as well as campaigning aggressively, for the individuals who and organizations that represent my ideas.
- I am raising children, to be good, respectful, tolerant citizens who will lead us into the future.
- I am problem solving, rather than rushing to conclusions and insisting on violence, and seeking solutions that heal rather than divide.
In the end, it is heartening to see communities coming together, maybe more after this pandemic, to show unity. Like so many other events in the past few years, however, I fear this current movement will get washed away as we resume our regular lives.
I thought after Eric Garner, and the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church, and Donald Trump, that things would get better, but these events only moved the needle in the way of awareness, not action. More importantly, recent and continued events signal an uncertain future that can only be altered by courage and action.
It has never been more important, therefore, that you take these opportunities to move us all forward through your actions. Godspeed.