Dear Fellow Americans,
Last night my heart rate was accelerated. I could not sleep. I had wept with Diamond Reynolds as she recorded the death of her boyfriend Philando Castile. I had wept with Don Lemmon as he reported on the killing of Alton Sterling while recounting the fear he’d lived with as a black man in America. I had wept as the number of Dallas police officers killed increased hour after hour. The tears had unleashed memories of weeping for my cousin, an Atlanta veteran Detective, when he was killed last year in the line of duty, as shown in the following clip. http://www.11alive.com/story/news/local/college-park/2015/03/12/fulton-county-detective-terence-green/70236804/
I had frantically sent text messages to my three sons and told them to stay home until the volatility in the country had subsided. I had wept as I thought about the stain of racism that poisons the lives of Americans, especially African Americans. From public schools applying harsher discipline on African Americans students from kindergarten to 12th grade, to private businesses refusing to hire African Americans, to African Americans being admitted in fewer numbers than any other minority group in colleges across the country, to simple acts of discrimination dismissing, ignoring, or thinking less than blacks because of the color of our skin, to black bodies being killed by police with little forethought as appears was the case with Alton Sterling and Philando Castile. I had wept about the personal incidents of racism that I, too, had endured over the years.
But I awoke with the resolve of change on my heart. It’s time for Americans to be honest about the deep wounds that have been inflicted upon us all as we absorb violent images in our living rooms, transmitted in live time by cell phones. Those wounds have pushed blacks, whites, Hispanics, Asians, and Jewish — Americans of every hue under the sun — into the streets of American cities to protest the deaths of Sterling and Castile. At the same time, the stain of racism has wounded the hearts of blacks for 300 years, forcing blacks into the streets with the cry, “Black Lives Matter.”
Although the cry, “Black Lives Matter”, is heard at fever pitch after a police shooting, which is the most heinous disregard of a black body, blacks, individually, cry it daily when we’re overlooked, wrongfully suspected of wrong doing, treated as if we’re less than, which could be an act as simple as no one wanting to seat next to the “the black” in a classroom or on a public bus. Such innocuous acts add up over a life time and weigh heavy on the hearts of blacks.
There are no easy solutions. Our solutions must address the complexities of America in 2016. This complexity must not discourage us but instead inspire us to release creative energy and create new solutions that have never been tried or seen before. We must not be turned around. We must act with urgency. I have faith that we can change now! Massive changes are needed in three areas:
Change in the Us vs. Them Attitudes: We need white people to weep with us. We are all Americans: black, white, Asian, Hispanic, Arabic, European, and more. America belongs to all of us. Heterosexual and homosexual. We will survive together in love, or we will continue down a path of racial disparity, divisiveness, separation, violent extremism, and fear mongering. We must acknowledge the painful past of slavery and discrimination and arm ourselves with historical facts so that we don’t continue to repeat the past.
African Americans understand that the darkness of our skin and the kinkiness of our hair are in deep contrast to the skin color of whites and the straight hair of blue eyed blonds. Yet we demand that this contrast be accepted with love. We demand that a conscience effort be made by whites and other immigrants to move past our differences by learning about the history of racism, by learning about the history of slavery, by teaching all citizens about the unconscious bias that favors whites over black, as shown in renowned academic studies time and time again.
All American citizens must be charged with learning about American’s racial history. American Immigrants, who may have had little or no contact with African Americans, are asked ONE QUESTION about race relations when applying for citizenship: “Who is Martin Luther King?” That is not enough. Every American citizen must learn about the stain of racism on America so that we can move past it. We must amplify our human commonalities and do all in our power to love each other. I love what Presidential Nominee Hillary Clinton said: She will call on white people to listen to the legitimate cries of her African American brothers and sisters.
The Good News Project can help steer us in the right direction. http://goodmenproject.com/featured-content/white-fragility-why-its-so-hard-to-talk-to-white-people-about-racism-twlm/
Change in Our Laws and Policies: Americans must look at laws that, ultimately, serve to increase discrimination and to divide us. We must be committed to repealing and replacing these laws so that all Americans feel protected, which includes transforming the system of policing in America.
We must demand that those who represent America are progressive minded, committed to the plurality of America, and dedicated to upholding laws that protect us all. White supremacist attitudes must be eliminated from the mainstream of the American discourse. We can look at countries like Germany for guidance. After Hitler, the majority of Germans did not placate and entertain Nazis ideology and encourage such ideology to be a legitimate part of their government. Yet, in America, we are just now removing the Confederate Flag, a symbol of white supremacy that offends Africans Americans, and we continue to amplify voices, such as Trump’s, whose rhetoric divides us as Americans. Trump can not suddenly change his divisive ways. We remember the damage that he’s already done. We must also hold the media accountable for the well-being of all Americans. The media must elevate those who help us heal and who create bridges bridges between us. The media must refuse to amplify divisive voices just to increase their ratings.
Change in Our Institutions: We must eradicate institutionalized racism. Schools, Universities and private businesses must be dedicated to inclusiveness. We must be committed to having our businesses reflect the diversity in the country. It’s also time to invest in agencies that protect citizens from discrimination such as the Equal Employment Commission and Departments of Employment and Housing in California. Such agencies must have adequate funding and the necessary personnel to go after those that discriminate. We must no longer allow acts of discrimination to be done with impunity. Year after year, studies show that many of America’s organizations and private businesses have racist employment practices. We must be committed to eradicating these harmful practices instead of just talking about it and doing nothing at all. To improve the racial disparity in law enforcement, police officers must receive training to understand their racial biases, and they must be integrated into the communities in which they serve, perhaps by being required to live among those that they police for at least one month out of a 12 month period. Military personnel train in the field and such training should be required of police.
Finally, this morning, I look with shock and horror of the pictures of Micah Xavier Johnson adorned in his military uniform. I stare and wonder how such a good looking young man could be filled with such hate to commit such horrendous acts of killing police officers. I shiver at the thought that he had the same name of a five year old African American kindergartner for whom I felt was being denied services and being disciplined more harshly than white students while I taught for Los Angeles Unified school. I had cried to LAUSD administrators for him: “Black Lives Matter. Still, LAUSD sent a first grader to a school for emotionally disturbed.
I write this to remind us all that those who are filled with evil and hate are not created over-night. They are created in our public school systems, in our prisons, in our businesses, and in our colleges. We all need to empathize and care about others, regardless of the color of their skin. Maybe our love can stop the next Micah Xavier Johnson and the next Dylann Roof in their tracks. We must integrate mental health services into all of our organizations and businesses so that those who are on edge and suffering can get the help that they need without feeling embarrassed about requesting those services.
Americans must be committed to elevating our country. We must be committed to humanistic attitudes, and laws and practices that protect us all. Our organizations must be committed to diversity and inclusion that will nurture us all and decrease the number of citizens that are filled with hate instead of love and filled with such angst that they must cry out, “Black Lives Matter.”
I’m praying for peace and healing for us all. I’m praying that the violence stops. God bless America.
Writer, Novelist, Playwright, and Screenwriter MFA ( December, 2016) University of California