Americans are outraged. Perhaps more so than anytime in our short history. At least it seems that way if the noise on Twitter, Facebook and Fox News is representative of our society's temperature.
The outrage is understandable. Millions have lost their jobs due to the corona pandemic, and over 100,000 have lost their lives. Regardless of what side of the political aisle you find yourself, most have not been happy with our institutions' response to this crisis. At a moment when distrust of our government was hitting all-time highs, George Floyd was wrongfully killed by a police officer for the world to see.
The reaction to Floyd's horrific death was immediate and forceful. Peaceful protests, riots and looting have spread across the country. Hollywood, musicians and companies have joined to stand up against police brutality and racism by using their platform and resources to drive change.
There's no shortage of energy being put forth, but I think we would be well served to take a beat. Let's ask ourselves, where are we trying to go? Collectively marching for change is ineffective if we're marching in the wrong direction. And I'm not sure there's consensus on our destination.
We can't reach a goal if we haven't clearly communicated what that goal is. I think MLK said it best in his I Have A Dream speech.
“I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.”
To me, the goal is equality. Not equality in general, but equality of opportunity. The opportunity to be judged not for being black, but for being a human being with unique character traits. Access to education, wealth, happiness, health and safety should be afforded to all regardless of skin color.
In short, the goal is for the color of your skin to really not matter.
Sam Harris just posted a podcast that addresses our current situation, and he uses a clever analogy here.
"How many blondes got into Harvard this year? What percentage of the police in San Diego are brunette? Do we have enough red heads in senior management in our Fortune 500 companies?"
No one is asking these questions, because literally no one cares. And we shouldn't care. A world where we cared about hair color in the way that we now care about skin color would be silly. But I don't think this analogy is far from we find ourselves with race, and it seems that many progressives are doubling down on identity politics.
Maybe treating skin color like we now treat hair color isn't the goal. If it's not, I'm happy to hear why it isn't. But if reaching a place where skin color is utterly uninteresting is what we're after, I'm not sure that's the direction we're marching toward.
There are two options for creating societal change—communication and violence. The government has a monopoly on the latter, and rightfully so. There's been less violence in the last 20 years than any period in history. That's a good thing. Violent protest and abolishing the police would result in needless death and suffering, and disproportionately so for the black community.
Communication is the only realistic way to reach our goals. And for communication to be effective, it must be honest. The operating standards for progressives is leaps and bounds higher those on the right. The list of mental gaffes and outright lies coming from Trump's mouth stacks higher than probably any public figure in human history. He can basically say whatever he wants and suffers no consequences from his base. This cannot be said for Biden or anyone on the left. So it's essential that we get our facts straight.
King in his Letter from a Birmingham Jail said the following.
"In any nonviolent campaign there are four basic steps: collection of the facts to determine whether injustices exist; negotiation; self purification; and direct action."
Since George Floyd's death was shared online, we jumped straight into action. But we cannot act effectively if we don't first gather the facts. And to gather the facts, we need to ask some difficult questions.
Was George Floyd's death evidence of an epidemic of unjust lethal police violence targeting blacks? Are blacks disproportionately the victims of lethal violence at the hands of the police? Was George Floyd's death evidence of widespread racism beyond the police force? If so, how much racism exists in America and how far does it go?
You might be offended that I'd even ask these questions as if the answers weren't abundantly clear. But as any decent teacher would say, there are no dumb questions. Whether that's true or not, I think in this case the questions are fair, and we must gather dispassionate facts and evidence in order to communicate answers to them.
Harris in that podcast I mentioned attempts to do just this. And frankly, the data is a bit surprising and discomforting. But it's not data's job to make us feel good unfortunately. It simply is what it is. Pretending otherwise is to detach oneself from reality and succumb to dogma.
The gaps between black wealth and incarceration rates when compared to whites is stark. This is a valley that we must bridge. To do so, we need to figure out what is truly causing these problems and communicate openly and honestly in order to find and execute on the best solutions.
Racial inequality is present in America today, but after listening to Harris' take, I just don't think we yet have evidence that needlessly violent racists have infested our police force. Is the police force inept, sometimes corrupt, racially biased, dangerously under-trained, and under-policed themselves? This seems to be the more likely reality, and one that we should work diligently and rationally to fix.