Out of Many... ONE
Tuesday, June 16, 2020
Let me start with a disclaimer. I am not black and so, I cannot fully comprehend or identify with the experience of being a black person, especially a young black man, in America today. However, I have dedicated the vast majority of my adult life – 33 years and counting – to ministering to 500,000 mostly minority prisoners and at-risk youth across North America and Africa.
I have also been involved in racial reconciliation efforts for many years, marched in MLK Jr. Day parades, preached in multiple black churches, and prayed hundreds of times with black pastors in my community for the purpose of unity and mutual understanding.
Finally, I made a pilgrimage to Memphis in April 2018 to pay homage to the memory and work of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. on the 50th anniversary of his tragic shooting. Touring the National Civil Rights Museum at the Lorraine Motel and standing just a few feet from the balcony where Dr. King was slain was one of the most sobering and transformational experiences of my life.
I share the above information not to boast or brag, but to inform. As I said, I cannot fully empathize with the plight of black Americans, but at least I have made a concentrated effort to try.
In the aftermath of George Floyd’s murder, one of the main goals of the black community has been to have its voices, individually and collectively, heard by the rest of the country. That request is more than reasonable and long overdue. Those of us who cannot share in the full black experience need to understand, as best we can, the unique obstacles facing black Americans today.
I won’t pretend to grasp all of them but, from what I am hearing, the main concerns of the black community involve educational and job opportunities, healthcare accessibility, and equal justice under the law. It would take more time and space than I have to address each of those issues independently, so let me simply say that every American, regardless of color or ethnicity, should enjoy the same privileges as U.S. citizens. Any attempts to deny a black American his or her constitutional rights because of their skin color is racist and reprehensible… period.
That being said, effective communication requires a two-way conversation. That means that white Americans need to listen to and learn from blacks, and black Americans need to listen to and learn from whites. And so, let me share a few concerns that I have as a white, middle-aged man that I think are shared by many other white Americans.
First, white Americans are tired of being presumed to be racists because of our skin color. Racism is not a default position for most whites and to assume otherwise is as offensive as portraying all blacks as criminals. We simply ask that you do what Dr. King asked and judge us, not by the color of our skin, but by the content of our character.
White Americans are also tired of being blamed for something that they didn’t do. I realize full well that some of the repercussions of slavery are still being felt in the black community and I grieve over that. However, most of my ancestors arrived in America a generation or two after the Civil War, and some of those who settled here earlier fought in the Union Army to abolish slavery.
Perhaps the biggest elephant in the room is this: as much as young black men fear being targeted by rogue or racist cops, white people of all ages fear being targeted by young black men. Numbers don’t lie. Black men comprise just 7% of our population but are responsible for more than half of all violent crimes, which is the main reason why they are disproportionately represented behind bars. Thankfully, black incarceration rates have dropped by 1/3 since 2006, so substantial progress is being made. However, the point remains that in cases of interracial violence, black on white crime accounts for 90% of such incidents.
Statistics from the U.S. Department of Justice also show that white Americans – by both number and percentage – are more likely to be stopped, shot and/or killed by police officers than black Americans. That is why we are confused by the claims of systemic racism within the law enforcement community. Media coverage says one thing, but facts and figures prove another.
Are there bad cops among America’s 800,000 law enforcement officers? You’d better believe it, just like there are bad teachers among America’s 4 million educators. Name a profession and I’ll guarantee that there are more than a few bad apples. But painting with a broad brush is intellectually dishonest and, instead of seeking common sense solutions, only fans the flames of division and distrust that are tearing our country apart.
I could go on, but I think you get the point. There are two sides to every story and both should be heard without fear of being prejudged or condemned. As much as white Americans need to better understand what it is like to walk in the shoes of black Americans, those efforts must be reciprocated.
And so, instead of focusing on our differences, let’s celebrate our diversity. Our national motto is E pluribus unum, meaning “Out of many, one.” Most of us would agree that it is time to begin putting that motto into practice.