Outraged citizens. Neighborhood organizers. The Right. The Left. The NRA. The GOP.
The NAACP. Whites. Blacks. Hispanics. Asians. Urban dwellers. Suburbanites. Baptists. Catholics. Jews. Muslims.
We all need to take a moment to seriously get over ourselves.
America needs to grow up.
I am punching this column out while sitting in the Salt Lake City International Airport. Hundreds of people all around me, and I am the darkest skinned guy in sight. Seriously. In the land of Senator Orin Hatch and the Osmond Brothers, I look more closely related to Tito Jackson than anyone else on Concourse E.
But I am not that different. And I know that. And if anyone besides my wife notices my presence, I am pretty sure no one is going to think that I am much different.
Hours of yard work and a robot pool vacuum on the fritz has put me in the sun a lot this summer, so I am kinda dark.
But I am not black.
I do not know what it is to be black. I have no idea what goes through the mind of someone who forever lives with the impression that they are in a constant battle against bigotry and discrimination and systemic suspicion and angst.
But… I am a man. So come to think of it, I kinda know what all that is. In a way.
It first hit me around 10 years old. I had always been perfectly at home around girls. Didn’t care much for their toys or the games they played, but they were cute, and ticklish, and easy to scare. So it was cool to have a few around as often as possible. Neighbors, cousins, even my female baby sitters… I loved chasing them, teasing them and generally making their lives a little more exciting.
But somewhere around 1975, I was told I needed to calm down. The girls who had always enjoyed my admittedly aggressive attention were changing and, because of that, I had to alter my behavior. No more chasing, or teasing, and forget about tossing lizards and dead bugs at them. That was frowned upon, as well.
Also, and this was most disturbing of all, the girls in the neighborhood started looking at me and most of my male cohorts as some type of bizarre and outrageous aliens. My female relatives never copped that attitude toward me personally, but it seemed almost overnight that every boy in the fifth grade was looked at as “suspect” by our female friends and classmates.
And yes, it is a suspicious prejudice that I am sad to report continues against me, and every other puberty aged male on the planet. According to my older friends and family members, it is a permanent condition that we will all carry to our graves.
Women are suspicious of men. Look a strange woman in the eye in a dark parking lot and see what happens. Listen in on any mother giving her daughter “the talk” about boys and the only thing they want. The minister of our church is so aware of the “fear” and the “talk” generated when a male meets with a female in private, that he refuses to do it. Smart man.
So yes, I kinda-sorta know what it feels like to live with unearned and unspecific suspicion all the time.
You might think that would be the end of the bigotry and prejudice tossed my way, unless you remember that I am well-known conservative who has for years worked hundreds of hours annually, most of my life since age 15, in Augusta’s performing arts community. In a world largely populated with talented, raging left wingers, I stick out like a pork chop at a Louis Farrakhan dinner.
Once folks get to know me, they usually only dislike me for my genuine personality quirks (who wouldn’t?) and the fact that I am a conservative doesn’t bother them that much. But I would not be exaggerating to tell you that I have heard it said in one way or another a thousand times, “Oh man, you are not the Neanderthal I thought you were supposed to be, you are just a typical ass like the rest of us…”
But still, I’m not black.
So I don’t know, and will never know, what it is like to be black in America. I also don’t know what it is to be gay, handicapped, Norwegian, female or a Cleveland Browns fan.
Those poor bastards. Cleveland fans, I mean.
I cannot know your experience, just as you cannot know mine. But that is why we are supposed to use common sense, good manners and, oh yes, the law, to get us past our differences.
Try to be smart, strive to be kind, but when all else fails, follow the law. If you believe the law is failing you, turn to others and share the concern.
What we cannot do, what we must never do, is surrender the covenant we have made as Americans to stand united in respect of the law.
It is not enough to obey the law in our own house, because if we turn a blind eye when the law is broken next door, the fallout and the damage to the body as a whole is real.
American law enforcement officers have 3 million engagements with the public each and every day. The number of those interchanges that go wrong are less than one tenth of one percent of the total. While no one wants to be that “one tenth,” it appears to be an overwhelmingly successful system an overwhelming number of times.
We can make it better, we need to make it better, and that starts, not with the officers who have always had extensive training and guidance on how to behave, but with the general public, who has not. In almost every single episode involving violence between cops and citizens, the citizens are being combative, uncooperative and belligerent. A physical altercation with law enforcement never ends well for the civilian.
Remember that, and also keep in mind that the officers we see getting maligned, threatened and, as of last week, murdered on live TV, are the ones who come to your house or your business when you have a problem that requires law enforcement.
Funny how that works. I have had to call 911 a few times myself over the years, and it was not the media, Bernie Sanders, Donald Trump or Jesse Jackson who showed up… it was the police.
Just like Batman, you put up the signal and they will come. Every single time.