“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.” Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. passionately professed these words in 1963, more than half a century ago and before most Maricopans were even born.
I’ve long held strong opinions about racism in America, and King’s speech is a significant part of the foundation to which I often refer.
The recent police-involved shootings and murders of police officers motivated me to consider doing more than hold my opinions. I had breakfast with a friend who is smart, politically savvy and black. I quizzed him about his views on these current events and what appears to be a growing racial divide in America. One of my takeaways was the importance of our individual roles in being part of the solution.
While tremendous progress has been made – most of it in the latter half of the 20th century – racism still exists today. It’s prevalent even, and that disgusts me.
It disgusts me in large part because it’s self-inflicted. We choose to have a racist society. And we teach it to our children, who will likely teach it to their children, perpetuating a horribly-flawed mindset with the power to dismantle families, communities and our nation.
How many of the kids we see on the playgrounds of our elementary schools are concerned with the color of their schoolmates’ skin? None. Kids see kids as kids; not black kids or white kids or brown kids, just kids.
Yet, at some point, for some people, that simplistic view of life changes. The change is undoubtedly aided, if not caused, by the influence of others. I count politicians, community activists (whatever that means), the Al Sharptons of the world and the media among these influencers. (I cannot bring myself to call some of these people leaders.)
Our politicians claim to be unifiers on the campaign trail, but after we elect them, their political rhetoric and policies often do more harm than good. The media enable self-serving opportunists like Sharpton on the national stage and Arizona’s Jarrett Maupin to drive a wedge in communities using false narratives and the under-informed as pawns.
Racism is not an innate characteristic; it is learned.
It can also be unlearned, and that is what gives me hope. We can do something about it.
We can work to strengthen our family units and strengthen public education. We can support public policies that encourage personal responsibility.
We can quit creating and tolerating racist organizations. We can quit supporting and proactively denounce those who seek to widen the racial divide, like Black Lives Matter advocates.
We can point out the hypocrisy of efforts to stop the violence by injuring and even killing police officers.
A theme that came up often during my recent breakfast was giving each other the benefit of the doubt. This in and of itself would radically improve race relations – and save lives.
If a person is killed by police, let’s start with the assumption it was a horrible tragedy; not that it was because the parties involved were of different races.
Let’s grasp there is a bottom 1 percent in every profession, from waiters to doctors to basketball players – even police and prosecutors. Let’s support efforts to improve recruiting and training to make the bottom 1 percent of our public servants the best they can be.
Let’s give others the benefit of the doubt and assume they are living by the Golden Rule until their actions prove otherwise. And let’s do our best to live by the Golden Rule and teach our kids to do the same.
Ultimately, it’s about personal responsibility. If you want everyone to be treated equally, treat everyone equally. If you want to stop violence, stop being violent. If you want stop racism, stop acting racist. (Remember, our children are watching – and emulating.)
Let’s keep our focus on MLK’s goal and judge each other by the content of our character – and speak up against those who judge us by the color of our skin. Show your family and spheres of influence. And start today.
Be part of the solution. Share your opinion with InMaricopa readers.
This column appears in the August issue of InMaricopa.