I have whiplash.
I am on a mission to seek out and hear both sides of the polarizing arguments plaguing our country right now. There are no easy or right answers. We need to better understand others’ perspectives through open and honest dialogue. But now I feel like I’m on a roller coaster with my head being tossed violently between the safety bars. The whiplash, I’m discovering, is in the intensity of words and arguments.
Over the last two weeks, I have thrown away my reluctance to talk about the issues in our country today with racism and support the #blacklivesmatter movement. I have done this at, perhaps, the cost of alienating dear family members who are part of the law enforcement community. That bothers me.
While I support #blacklivesmatter I also support anyone who makes it his or her life’s work to protect and defend, as do our first responders and our military. And there’s the rub: there are no easy or right answers. So at the risk of offending someone, I stayed silent. I can’t do that anymore.
After spending the last few years reading everything I can from both sides, I believe that there are systemic issues in our country that limit the opportunities of people of color and cause them to be treated more cynically and suspiciously.
I have seen it personally after 40 years in the workforce. I don’t want to watch silently. I want to start a good, respectful dialogue. I recently wrote about my experience in 1994, and the enlightenment that came from hearing a black IBM executive describe giving “the talk” to his son. I am just now tiptoeing into our current political situation because it is difficult to separate politics from the issue of bias.
My long-held value of respect for our nation and our President is slipping away. Someone asked me recently, “Do you support the President,” and without batting an eye, I said, “No.” In reflection, that’s not how I should have answered. I do support the office of the President of the United States. Absolutely. I also believe…maybe hope is a better word…that all citizens of this country understand that concept. Our President has been entrusted to protect and defend the constitution of the United States and will make decisions that benefit some and don’t benefit others but are made for the good of the country. If he or she does that with the greater good in mind, it is our civic responsibility to support. That doesn’t mean we agree. We don’t have to. That’s called freedom.
I do not support the individual who currently holds this office is what I should have said. I am a business person so I get his rigid focus on the economy. I see the problems that porous borders have enabled. If nothing else COVID-19 has demonstrated how fragile our economy is. But COVID-19 has also demonstrated the need for articulate, caring, and credible leadership and I don’t see that in our current President. Now we are rocked by a new wave of evidence that our black population, who we’ve tried to legislate into equality, is not equal in many instances.
Back to my whiplash.
It feels as if we are at a tipping point in support for #blacklivesmatter after the death of George Floyd. I have been swayed to think about the obstacles that people of color have within our culture that I, as a white person, don’t have. That troubles me. At the same time, there is a vocal segment that supports the current administration and speaks with eloquence about “the other side.”
Let the whiplash begin
Candace Owens is an articulate, credible black conservative commentator and activist who has shared her distaste for creating a martyr out of George Floyd on Facebook. If you haven’t yet, watch her video. She came to my attention in an email for a very conservative friend who basically said, “Listen to this black woman support my position” (I’m paraphrasing).
Ms. Owens speaks articulately about George Floyd’s criminal past as well as his being high on methamphetamines at the time of the arrest. She goes on to say, “I refuse to accept that this is the best the black society has to offer or pretend that he lived a heroic lifestyle”. Hard to argue. Her iteration of his prior offenses is hard to hear. I agree that he shouldn’t be raised up as a martyr. And it is unfortunate that the black community feels that they need to make him a martyr.
But his record is not what concerns me. What concerns me is that a police officer who had 18 prior internal investigations knelt on the neck of a man for 8 minutes and 46 seconds, ignoring pleas to be able to breathe while three others did not intervene, and the man died. It also concerns me that it took four days to make an arrest.
The volume of Ms. Owens’ presentation and the data on white and black arrests are loud and I find myself getting pulled in. She goes on to say that this issue of whites and blacks only happens in election years and this movement is an election ploy. She’s trying to convince me that she’s right and I start to question myself. Whiplash sets in because of the vehemence of her words. But nothing changes the part of the narrative that concerns me. That it appears that a police officer used brute force and killed a man and that it appears that this wasn’t taken seriously by the chain of command until media attention forced the issue.
Pump up the volume and the charged words
I received a link to a Tucker Carlson video. In the first 26 seconds of the video, he made the statement that George Floyd’s death has “led to demands that we fire the nearly 700,000 police officers who work in the United States and free the million and a half criminals now behind bars.” Really? I haven’t heard that. He goes on to quote Senator Corey Booker as saying, “There are so many people – African American men – unarmed – being murdered and no way to hold people accountable.” Then he quotes The Floyd family lawyer, Ben Crump, as saying, “What we are experiencing here in America is genocide.” In October 2019, Crump, who served as Trayvon Martin’s family’s lawyer wrote and published, “Open Season: Legalized Genocide of Colored People.”
Carlson goes on to provide the stories of the 10 unarmed African American individuals (9 men, 1 woman) who were fatally shot by police officers in 2019, including the outcome of the investigation into the police behavior. Some were charged, others were not. For the most part, they didn’t appear to be upstanding citizens. In contrast, he points out that in 2019, 48 police officers were murdered; more than all of the unarmed shootings. Carlson finished by quoting Joy Reid from MSNBC who said, “As black people, we feel hunted. That is not the way we are supposed to feel in our own country. Just stop killing us, this is not a huge demand’.
His conclusion – there is no systemic bias against African Americans.
I said earlier in this essay that after spending the last few years reading everything I can from both sides, I believe that there are systemic issues in our country that limit the opportunities of people of color and cause them to be treated more cynically and suspiciously.
Now I have an incredibly articulate black woman and an argumentative conservative commentator telling me that isn’t so. And they have data to prove it.
Corey Booker, Ben Crump, and Joy Reid emotionally and hyperbolically saying there is systemic bias. Knowing how easily data can be fashioned to say what we want it to say I suspect they have data too.
Who can shout loudest?
Candace Owens claimed that all this was festering simply because it’s an election year. Tucker Carlson said there’s been a demand to fire all police officers and let all criminals out of jail. Corey Booker says there are way too many unarmed African Americans being murdered perhaps inferring that unarmed means squeaky clean. Ben Crump says it’s “open season” on killing blacks. Joy Reid says blacks are being hunted.
This is charged language, defined as “language that contains implications beyond the meanings of words that is often used to persuade or convey a specific way of thinking.” Charged words have a shock value that is intended to sway. Or in my metaphor, swipe your head back and forth between the safety bars on the roller coaster.
The media has a Ph.D. in charged words and we fall right into the trap. But the whiplash is painful, so we stick with what we know and trust.
We talk in generalities because they have shock value. We don’t read beyond the headlines, particularly when they serve the purpose of reinforcing our own beliefs.
There is a better way
We can say “no” to hyperbole and charged language and use our common sense to discern the details that are important and ignore the hyperbole. It starts with two actions: Reading below the headlines and reading stuff from “the other side.” Perhaps we could find enough common ground to actually have an intelligent conversation.
And then we need to talk.
I don’t want Tucker Carlson, Candace Owens, Corey Booker, Joy Reid, Ben Crump, or anyone else telling me what to think. I can think for myself.