I’m not sure which irritates me more — the idea that there are those among us who think they have nothing to do with race relations or the political process, or the way being inconvenienced takes precedence over thinking more deeply about whatever caused the alleged inconvenience.
Of course, we live in an irritating time. When people like Donald Trump actually have a shot at becoming a candidate for the presidency of the United States via a campaign of loud idiocy, when Black Lives Matter demonstrations are considered by some as nothing more than a reason to reschedule shopping at the Mall of America, and when we daily hear stories of non-Muslims saying hateful things to Muslims out of fear, how can we step back and be thoughtful? How can we find space to dig beneath these events to the actions or non-actions that spawned them?
And yet so many seem to not want to think. At all.
What started me on this latest bit of exasperation with modern American life was last week’s article in the Minneapolis Star Tribune about a poll on Black Lives Matter and the use of force (the article can be found here). It wasn’t the article’s illustration of the stark racial divide over how law enforcement treats African Americans, nor was it the equally stark racial difference in the views of the Black Lives Matter tactics. What has stuck in my mind all week was a quote from a retired homemaker (How do you retire from homemaking, anyway? Stop vacuuming?) who went on about how she had to rearrange her schedule to go Christmas shopping because she had heard that BLM would be at the Mall of America right when she had planned to be there. And then she was quoted as saying that BLM inconvenienced people who had nothing to do with this – “this” being all the heightened racial tension that has swirled in the Twin Cities over the past year.
For one thing, I cannot in any universe equate the importance of Christmas shopping with the importance of civil disobedience to bring attention to a societal problem. (Boston Review published a great blog post on Martin Luther King, civil disobedience and inconvenience in January of 2015 here.) And I cannot absolve myself or any other adult citizen of our part in how race relations are handled in this country. We all have a piece of it, whether it is as simple as extending a hand to our neighbors no matter who they may be or as complicated as working on public policy. To discount an entire segment of the population for their insistence that their lives are not what we assume is to continue with an arrogant approach that lacks deeper study and compassion. The two segments will get louder and there will be more violence.
Haven’t we seen that already? What is with this spiral of actions that strengthens the divide?
Yesterday’s newspaper was full of news of Trump, Cruz, Clinton, Sanders, and others in Iowa building up to today’s caucuses. So much of the coverage is knee-jerk reactionary drivel designed to get people on board without them thinking too hard about it all. Build a fence to keep out undesirable immigrants? Sure! Get rid of Obamacare? Yeah! Go after Wall Street? Hand me a torch!
In all honesty, I might join in on that last one. But, hopefully, I would think deeply about it, and I’m pretty sure I could rearrange any shopping trips I might have planned without too much trouble.