It is amazing how many white people think there is no reason why African-Americans, poor black people specifically, cannot pull themselves out of poverty and live their lives like we do. When a black person is shot by police these same people will say “if they don’t want to be stopped by police they shouldn’t break the law!” These Americans have no insight into the implicit pre-judgment in their minds that the black person must have been doing something wrong,” or even worse, that “they should not have been there in the first place.” How can America be great if there are public places to which access is denied because of race or religion?
These white Americans do not understand why anyone whose car broke down along a highway would be afraid of an approaching police officer. They cannot imagine that that they would be perceived as a threat when walking through someone else’s neighborhood. Most white men cannot imagine that women, whom they pass on a sidewalk or other public place, would feel endangered by their nearness just because of the color of their skin. White Americans do not understand what it is like to be profiled by the color of their skin.
White Americans are incensed when a millionaire black athlete kneels during the National Anthem as a form of protest over the death of yet another black man at the hands of police. These white people have no insight into the fact that the reality in which young black children are reared in the U.S. is not the same reality with which they are familiar. They do not understand that the chasm that separates poor blacks from mainstream American society seems as wide as the Grand Canyon to black Americans. Most whites Americans cannot comprehend that life in poor urban and rural communities is not a matter of choice. They do not see that the black athlete who kneels during the national anthem is using his platform to speak on behalf of young people who are unable to speak for themselves.
White men and women who ridicule the idea of “white privilege” are oblivious to their own lack of empathy. Rather than seek to understand or work to find solutions they opt, instead, to pass judgment on their fellow citizens. They are so busy exercising their “white privilege” in response to their perceptions of black America that they have no insight into how they, themselves, are perceived by that other America. Sadly, far too many do not believe that blacks are entitled to such privilege and they do not care what black America thinks. These Americans reject the assertion that their behavior is a subtle form of racism. They also reject the possibility that they could ever be wrong.
It is because of such intransigence that we remain divided as a nation, unable to assuage the pain of past and present injustice. When are white Americans going to acknowledge that the greatness of America is a matter of perception and that we do not all enjoy the same opportunities and freedoms?
Rather than strive to address the inequities of our society and the prejudices of the American people, conservative white men and women want to turn back the clock to a simpler time when they felt safe, secure, and in control. We cannot achieve the future we seek by bullying, calling people names, blaming others when we do not get our way, by clinging to the past, or by abandoning our democratic principles. What we all must understand is that there will never be a simpler time.
The reality that is early 21st Century America is a function and consequence of our government’s policies since the end of World War II; both republican and democrat, liberal and conservative. Since the world has changed exponentially, we must be willing and able to think exponentially, which is just another way of saying “think outside the box.” The one thing of which we can be certain is that the problems of the balance of the 21st Century will not be solved by the solutions of the past. The sooner we accept this truth the sooner we can begin working together to repair the widening breach that divides us.