In the past two weeks, we’ve seen several groups of people catch the eye of the news: peaceful protesters, rioters with questionable and likely varying motives, and opportunistic looters. Unfortunately, these groups have frequently been conflated, perhaps particularly by some who are uncomfortable with the Black Lives Matter or George Floyd protests. There are, no doubt, many who have a hard time believing that most or all of the BLM protesters have participated peacefully – that the rioting and looting might be coming primarily from external groups and individuals who are leveraging or sabotaging the BLM movement. There are many who struggle to believe that “even today,” there exist racist people and alliances which could have the motivation to sabotage and misrepresent the Black Lives Matter protests.
To make the issues more confusing and polarizing, our assessments and understanding of what’s actually going on, what should or shouldn’t be happening, how various governmental officials should or shouldn’t respond, and “who started what” are often divided, once again, along party lines. It seems even the varying perspectives on our national response to a virus are not impervious to politicization.
We see a president who, admittedly, has done much to help the economy also apparently condoning the use of tear gas and flash grenades against peaceful protesters at the White House, and making some obvious political stunts to preserve the adoration and loyalty of the Evangelical community. Similarly, we see Biden leveraging the BLM movement for his own political career.
We see many peaceful Black Lives Matter protesters exercising their right to express themselves and demand justice, and also some opportunistic looters likely or often unaffiliated with the Black Lives Matter protests.
We see police officers demonstrating brutality, and also many officers suffering at the hands and brutality of looters or others who are misusing our country’s present climate and events selfishly rather than constructively.
We see people responding to the current events (and all the years of systemic oppression and culture wars leading up to the present) with strong “white sentiment” or “black sentiment” – often with good cause, often unfairly, but nearly always understandably.
And, as usual, we see people seeking a person or group to blame entirely or exonerate entirely. It is too messy, too complex, and often too painful to acknowledge the tension between darkness and light in everyone: that no one is all good or all bad, all right or all wrong, all-seeing or completely ignorant.
Nearly everyone sees predominantly one side of the elephant, or maybe two. But an elephant is multi-faceted, and if we’re honest, none of us can ever completely see all that is true or at work in our nation’s politics, oppressive systems, cultural judgments, or unfair treatment. There are always very real and tragic stories we haven’t heard – or stories that we simply don’t see, hear, or believe, because it’s not how we were conditioned to see, hear, or believe.
Growing up, most of us were conditioned to zero in on certain concerns (such as racism or women’s rights or capitalism vs. wealth redistribution), and we were conditioned to ignore others, generally learning that those concerns and causes were nonexistent, irrelevant today, or even deceptive or destructive and antithetical to our own.
It seems that not even our national response to a virus can transcend the polarization of party lines and political propaganda. We are so conditioned to trust people and groups, that many of us will default to the (increasingly extremist) views and positions of the political, religious, and/or racial leaders or platforms we most trust and with whom we most strongly identify. We are often too lazy – perhaps even too self-doubting – to forge our own paths and weigh the information and opinions for ourselves with our own reasoning faculties.
I stand with the black community in their expression of both their present and centuries-old suffering, pain, and demands for justice. I do not applaud violence or automatic bias against anyone – against African Americans, police officers, white people, Democrats, or Republicans, by virtue of their skin color, political affiliation, or job description. I believe every individual deserves an individual chance to prove themselves, and that even those who don’t prove themselves still have the right to due process, regardless of the crimes they have committed. I believe that even the worst of us deserves love, although that by no means condones or dismisses the suffering caused to others by their actions.
In the end, we’re all people, with the same human gene pool, the same issues with forgiveness and trust (stemming from different backgrounds, trauma, and wounds), and the same fears – of tyranny, oppression, losing or never gaining our voice, and domination by another “group.”
Once we start to extend the hand of understanding, compassion, and humility toward “other groups,” we may be surprised to find them gradually warming up and extending the same toward us. But we will never achieve these things as long as we are in the mode of hostility.
On a very personal level, I understand what it is to battle daily fear, stress, and even post traumatic stress – perpetually braced for self-defense or the evasion of a threat. I understand it’s not easy to have much room for compassion while operating in this mode. And it’s generally not humanly feasible to “just snap out of” our individual- or collective-trauma responses.
As a woman, I am often wary of men – even many who are likely decent and trustworthy – because there is a history of men abusing and misusing women. This does not mean I instantly hate every man, but it does mean that I often have my guard up around many men, especially in certain potentially compromising settings.
I don’t believe that compassion and forgiveness require throwing our awareness out the window. We have brains and fight-or-flight wiring for a reason; we just have to seek to use them responsibly and not aim them at the wrong people.
I believe it is important for women today to make their voices and strength known, so that those men who would harm them and the women of the future are deterred from doing so. I believe it is crucial that women gain a collective decency and respect from men, to the point that men rarely, if ever, dare to manipulate or harass them in business or other spheres of life.
Similarly, I believe African Americans’ right to feel safe driving on the streets and not fear unfair treatment or even death when getting pulled over is a massively worthy cause.