Black & White – We Are All Americans

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Walking out of my local community center last night I found myself next to a gentleman who looked over and said “How are you tonight?”  I smiled and responded that I was doing okay and wished him a good evening.  A few seconds went by and for whatever reason, I turned around and shouted “Hey, I’d like to change my answer – I’m actually really tired.”    The man shouted back “I heard that” and laughed as he continued walking to his car.

I’m a middle aged white guy.  He was a middle aged black guy.  Never saw him before.  We were complete strangers sharing a nice moment.

As I got into my car and headed out of the parking lot, it started to bother me that I can’t wrap my head around why so many people are so angry these days.   I mean, this sort of stuff happens every day to me.  I don’t care what color someones skin is and from what I’ve experienced – most people don’t seem to care what color mine is either.    Every day, I see black and white people mingling, sharing laughs and treating each other just fine.

Yet the news and social media tells me everyone hates each other.

The other day I was reading something online about how apparently I have something called “white privilege”.   The online post opined that if you are born white – you should feel guilty and realize that whether you know it or not – you’re racist.  Of course, the hilarity of the moment is that while I was reading the post – I was also in the middle of text messaging with an older black woman. a dear friend that I was getting set to meet up with later in the evening.

It’s absolutely true that I’ll never know what it’s like to be black.   I’ve always been part of a majority.  It’s rare that I’m in a shopping center, restaurant or party where I can’t look around and see people that look similar to me.  I don’t pretend to understand what it’s like to be on the other side of that equation.

We have evolved as a nation but racism still exists.  But, racism exists the same way that people with no common sense still exist.  I could hold up cardboard signs at protests every day that read “we demand common sense!”  Yet – I’ll never see a time where there isn’t at least some moron that doesn’t know you don’t leave a child or a dog in a car with the windows rolled up on a hot Summer day.

Some people will always be stupid, the same way some people will always be racist.

Most people are not racist.

A few years ago, I got a letter from my 4th grade teacher.  She had written to tell me that she was proud of me for what I had accomplished in my adult life.  She also wrote about something that I did as a kid – that I didn’t even remember.  Apparently in our class, we had a black boy who must have had a troubled home life and brought much of his frustration to school.  According to my teacher, I would crawl under the desks and over to where he was sitting to comfort him and help him once in awhile.  I guess I had crawled because I didn’t want the teacher to see me getting up in the middle of class.   Her letter noted that from the back of the classroom – she saw exactly what I had been doing and decided to move my desk – right next to his so that  “you wouldn’t have so far to crawl” she wrote.

Anyone that knows me understands that I am not politically correct.  I don’t have much tolerance for folks that want to use a lot of big words to make simple things sound more complicated than they really are.   Being politically correct has nearly ruined our society.  Instead of all of us being Americans – we’re now expected to say “African-American” or “Mexican-American” or “Asian American”.    Gee.  No wonder everyone feels so divided – we’re not even a real country anymore.   We can’t just be neighbors, friends or fellow citizens – we have to be called different titles or someone gets offended.   Part of what made our country so special, so strong, so unique was that people came here from around the world to be one thing – Americans.

There’s a lot of blame to go around.  The dishonest media and politicians all thrive the more we fight against each other.   Republicans don’t dare to visit inner cities to learn about the problems of poor and disenfranchised black families.  Democrats constantly stir the pot and plant seeds of hatred into black communities.  Our Vice President at a campaign rally actually said of conservatives to black members in the audience: “They want to put you back in chains”.   How disgusting.

So how on Earth do we go about fixing this problem?  What can we possibly do to get over this once and for all?

For starters, we all have to quit running to our corners and spouting off nonsense that just riles people up.  Quit going on Facebook and saying everyone that protests is a thug.  Quit calling people a racist because they disagree with you politically.  If you aren’t going to agree to forgive and forget – then you’re part of the problem.

We have to start looking at both sides of every story.  Too many people want to be outraged without talking about both sides of an incident.  We often spread around edited videos or quotes without any context.  In the aftermath of a tragic shooting, we dig deep for the sweetest grade school photo of the person that’s been killed while ignoring recent images that show the same person flaunting drugs or weapons.  Too often I see people painting just one side of a story and ignoring a chain of events.   If we’re going to fix our problems – we have to start being honest and not getting outraged at only part of the problem.

As demonstrated in Dallas – our police departments are full of brave men and women of all colors who risk their lives.  They have loved ones at home that have no idea if they’ll return home safe from work – every single day.  They are paid crap.  They get spit on and cursed at.   They have to wear uncomfortable uniforms with bullet proof vests and carry around gobs of equipment because people can’t just do the right thing and behave.

I’ve been fortunate to know some really great men and women who are police officers and they’re exactly the kind of people you want on call if you’re in trouble.   But, we also have some people who slip through the cracks and shouldn’t be police officers.   The video of the officer in Minnesota shooting the man in his vehicle during a routine traffic stop shows the need for smart, steady, cautious officers.   On the flip side – an officer in Saint Louis was just shot during the same sort of traffic stop.   If you’re being honest, it’s easy to understand why cops are so anxious and nervous.  Not only do they have to do their jobs, they now have to worry about being shot by people from every direction.   It’s easy to complain on Twitter and Facebook from the comfort of your living room – it’s another to put on that uniform and hit the street with the whole world potentially watching your every move.

We have to take the time to communicate with each other and actually listen to one another.  I see a lot of talking.  I don’t see a lot of listening.

I’ve never been a fan of protests simply because they never actually work.  It’s just a bunch of people that come across on television or in photos as angry or bitter.  Nobody watching a protest at home says to themselves: “Hey, I’d really like to get to know these people on TV screaming!”   It’s the same reason that a therapist will tell you when you have a disagreement with someone – the worst thing to do is point your finger in their face and tell them they’re wrong.    You’d be stunned how much easier it is to solve a problem when you’re willing to listen to one another.

Quit rolling your eyes when you hear someone saying something you disagree with.  Like you, they have reasons for why they feel the way they do.  Most people are much closer to wanting the same things in life than we realize.

 

Most important – we have to accept that racism will always exist.  Sad, but true.

Stop wasting your precious time on Earth being angry at the tiny percentage of people that still think it’s okay to spew hatred.  You will never change these people and you know it.  Ignore them.  Focus your energy on loving and being loved by the majority of people that don’t care about skin color.

I’ve met and befriended people of all races in just about every state in America during my travels.  I know for a fact that we have a lot of really great people – black and white – all over our country.

We aren’t each others enemies – we’re Americans.  It’s about time we start acting like it.

 

 

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Bill is a travel journalist, broadcaster and freelance writer based in Saint Louis, Missouri. Bill travels all across the country doing positive stories, highlighting people and places making America great. He's the host of the weekly Rediscover America podcast and author of the new book 100 Things To Do In America Before You Die! Bill enjoys parks, talking to strangers, eating medium-rare steaks, playing Pickleball and telling good jokes.