Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Our Collective Shortness of Breath

My head and heart were captured Sunday by a television interview with the mothers of Michael Brown, Tamir Rice and Eric Garner. I was struck by Sybrina Fulton, Trayvon Martin's mom, in conversation with Anderson Cooper who said, "(S)ome Americans don't understand the life (of black people), and they don't understand what we're fighting against. 

"I don't even think the government quite gets it, Until it happens to them and in their family, then they'll understand the walk." 

For me, a white sixty-two year old male, her words sound like both a cry of distress and a call for action. Sometimes what we think of as a complex issue, race in America, isn't really as hard as we tell one another it is because we too often have that conversation with people who look just like us instead of with those who do not. 

A friend last week offered an observation that stung because the truth of the answer reflects how close to the heart of the matter we each are willing to get: 
Are black men an endangered species?  No, because even endangered species are protected by law.

Assuming his point was intended to make me laugh and think (good luck with the latter) humor is sometimes our only and best recourse because if we don't laugh, we'd cry. And there have been oceans of tears shed in recent months because we are not willing to have "the talk" about the walled communities we are constructing separating ourselves instead of celebrating one another. 

I don't pretend to be the close to the brightest guy in the room, and my odds don't get better as the room size shrinks, but when I look at where we are in terms of shared ideals and universal values like 'liberty' or 'freedom' or 'justice' we grow farther apart in this country every day as each of those words takes on too many meanings. We are unable (or unwilling) to admit too much sadness is madness and while we each believe we know the path that must be walked, we wait for someone else to take the first step.

We reduce complex and intricate issues to slogans, shouted out car windows and slapped on tee-shirts and car bumpers because we lack the attention span to have a serious and sustained discussion on topics as straightforward as police and community relations.

Am I treated differently by a member of law enforcement than is a man half my age? What about a man of a different color? Some would have us inquire of the police but shouldn't we concerned about the deed rather than the doer? But we're not and we're not willing to talk about why we're not. 

In a world of convergence and instant connectivity, we're inundated by social media, citizen journalists, all operating without a safety net and without fact checking allowing us to pick and choose the version of facts that best suits us.

If you have a cell phone with a camera you can have a following. Each of us can create a 'news feed' reflecting a personal slant on the world to the exclusion of any information we do not like. When that happens I see 'news' that confirms my prejudices and beliefs-it doesn't make me smarter or or part of a larger world, but rather, more insular and set in my ways.

We have not become more aware of the world in which we are but a part, we have reinvented the universe with ourselves at the center (hello, selfies!) as we are more wary and weary of  everything beyond our keyboard and cellphone.

Mark Twain in another America but with the same problems we have today "a lie is halfway around the world before the truth has put its shoes on." In today's world, that lie has lapped the truth twice over and I have the Instagram picture to prove it.
-bill kenny

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