Friday, June 05, 2020

Black Lives Matter

Closing my eyes and falling asleep has been more difficult for me recently. The images and videos from across the nation flash through my brain. The emotion and angst of the people protesting fill my mental voids. I am a 37 year old white male who grew up in a middle class suburban family who now has a college degree, a stable career, and my own middle class white suburban family. What the hell do I know about the struggles and injustices of the black community? 

The murder of George Floyd was the latest episode in this horror story of police brutality directed toward minorities. Nine minutes of unlawful and inhumane torture ended the life of a man whose crimes were being a black man and an alleged counterfeit $20 bill. The absurdity of that last sentence creates pits in my stomach. How can you not be outraged? 

Everything in my life has been a product of the privilege that I have been fortunate to have since birth. My family life, my education, my opportunities, my employment, my health, my house, my cars, my safety - all receiving assistance along the way from the color of my skin, the zip code of my birth, and the income of my family. In the casino of life, I am the house. 

1619 (exact date disputed among historians) - First slaves arrive on American soil
1863 - Emancipation Proclamation
1865 - 13th Amendment to the Constitution
1934 - National Housing Act
1964 - Civil Right Act
1965 - Voting Rights Act
1968 - Fair Housing Act
1970s and 1980s - War on Crime
1994 - Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act

Hundreds of years of slavery. One hundred years between the end of slavery and national legislation protecting the rights of black humans. From Lincoln's famous address until today, we have seen practices like redlining, Jim Crow laws, active hate groups, mass incarceration, a privatized prison system profiting off full facilities, excessive minimum sentencing, racial disparity in the legal system, a financially crippling health care system, and militarized police forces all holding poor communities in their increasingly poor situations. And those disadvantaged communities are overwhelmingly filled with people who earned their freedom after we had a head start of several hundred years. 

The nasty and horrible truth is that the system that we reside in favors those of us who have been in power the longest. It is that system that allows those inhumane policemen to commit violent (even deadly) acts against minorities with little to no repercussions. It is that system that is being protested. And it is that system that must be changed. 

Part of what has been on my mind has been my uncertainty as to what I can do as a 37 year old white male in the suburbs to help combat these injustices. Luckily, I have found people like Emmanuel Acho to help me figure that out. 

I owe it to Paul, Emmanuel, and the black community to do my part. Personal accountability is key in improving our society, so here is my individual pledge. It is not enough, but it is a start.   

First and most importantly, I promise to listen to Paul and Emmanuel and others who can provide first-hand knowledge on their upbringing as a black human in this world. 

I promise to educate myself on the history and current struggles of the black community. I will never be able to fully comprehend the depths of your struggles, but I can do my research and I can have empathy. 

I promise to educate my children in the same regard. Change starts in the home. Fortunately, this already started with an intense and deep conversation just the other night between my wife, my kids, and me about race and the current state of affairs. Their natural disgust toward racism was a warm reminder that hate is taught and that we are going through this process with genuinely kind and good kids. 

I promise to use my power as a voting citizen to fill our local, state, and federal government with individuals who understand the importance of this issue and who will work to right this wrong. 

I promise to support and empower minorities in my line of work. That starts with a personal re-engagement with the Conference of Minority Transportation Officials (COMTO) and a new commitment to organizations like the CSU chapter of the National Society of Black Engineers (NSBE) to promote a more equitable, inclusive, and diverse workplace.

If you do not think there is a problem in our society, how would you respond to Jane's request?