This is going to be a difficult subject to talk about.
Not necessarily because I can’t find the words to talk about it, but more because of the way people might react to it. It’s no secret that the history of the United States is filled with horrid moments. We’ve oppressed other races. We’ve oppressed women. We’ve even tried to oppress other religions at times. But as I grew up, I started to notice something. In certain areas, we seemed to have over-corrected our course. It became the standard to not say certain things for fear of being labeled a chauvinist, a racist, prejudiced, or whatever term applies to the situation. It’s gotten to the point where an internet comedian couldn’t even use the word “retarded” in a proper context without getting slammed with controversy.
For those of you who don’t know what I’m referring to, last August internet comedian Jontron tweeted that the Playstation Now service was “the most painfully retarded thing” he’d ever seen. Immediately, the website Tumblr was in an uproar (Tumblr is widely known on the internet for smear campaigns like this). Jontron got plenty of flak for a comment that he probably didn’t even think much about (I already did a post on this way back when if you want to know more).
But it doesn’t really end there. Because of an image a student at Denfeld High made of another student, in some people’s minds Duluth and everyone in it is a racist. The image in question was a photoshopped picture of a black student with a noose around his neck that said “gotta hang ’em all”. Is this picture horrible? Yes. Is it something that is worth discussing as a community? Most definitely yes. I am not a fool. I will not deny that racism still exists in and around the Duluth area. When I was in college, I lived with a black roommate who actually got jumped walking back from school late at night. It’s no secret that bad things can still happen around here.
The problem is that some people, in their search for change, tend to overgeneralize the situation. In much the same way as Jontron was vilified for using the word “retarded”, Duluth was vilified by some as a sort of racist haven. I’ve lived here for about five or so years now. I know the city’s history. I visited the Clayton Jackson McGhie memorial and I know the story of those three men. And I know that we still have a long way to go before we reach true equality in this country. But labeling a community as racist simply because of one incident at a local high school isn’t the answer, and unfortunately that is the course that some have decided to take. There is a discussion to be had about where the idea for this picture came from, but oversimplifying the problem is not going to help us at all.
But for now, let’s pull out to a nation-wide scale. If you’ve paid even the slightest attention to the news (and even if you haven’t), you know of the Ferguson incident and the numerous other cop shootings that have been reported (including one over in Madison Wisconsin, just one state away from me). In the Ferguson case, it was proven beyond a reasonable doubt that the police department there had engaged in racial profiling tactics. This much we know, and I’ve talked a little bit about the Ferguson shooting before. This time however, I’m more concerned with the shootings that happened in the aftermath.
I noticed a trend in the media that really started to bother me. Whenever they spoke of a shooting, I would often hear this line: a white police officer shot an unarmed black male. Do you see the issue there? While they are reporting the facts, there is an insinuation buried in the words that I seriously don’t like. A white police officer shot an unarmed black male. Why is their skin color even important? Isn’t it enough that a human being shot another human being to death?
This is what I mean by over-correction. Because of an actual racially charged incident, now any incident with similar circumstances is labeled as racially charged, even before all the facts are in. And that’s worse, these incidents that may or may not be racially charge could end up obscuring the incidents that actually are. One of the stories I remember was of a cop shooting a man who was running away from him. The cop said the man had stolen his taser, and that he feared for his life. But before we even had all the facts, we immediately started reporting it as a white police officer shooting an unarmed black male. If the event had been proven to be racially motivated in some way, then yes I would say calling attention to their race would be important. But it really shouldn’t be something that we call attention to upon the first reports of the incident, even though in that specific case I thought that the police officer was completely in the wrong.
I do not believe myself to be a racist. I feel I have to say that because I know that some people, if they ever read this post, would most likely construe my words in that sense and I would immediately be labeled in their minds as a scumbag. But if we really want to achieve true equality, we have to learn to not give in to knee-jerk reactions like that. True equality does not involve giving one group special treatment over another. True equality means everyone is treated as the same. The human experience is not black and white. It is both, and all shades of grey in between. There are good cops, and there are bad cops. There are nice people, and there are mean people. There are people who believe in equality, and there are people who cling to outdated notions of racial superiority. In this country especially we have to start understanding that life is not a series of binary choices, of belonging to one side or another. Life is a spectrum, and the people you meet may lie on any part of that spectrum.
In the end, who knows? True equality might be an impossibility. But we won’t stop fighting for it.
Well I hope you enjoyed this more serious post of mine. I don’t often talk about social issues on this blog (mainly because I feel that people get inundated with it enough in modern society), but I felt like I wanted to say something about a topic that I’ve been thinking about for a while now.
In any case, that’s all I have for you this week. Tune in next Wednesday for another post, and as always, have a wonderful week.