Sunday, May 31, 2020

Everyday People

"I am no better, and neither are you
We are the same whatever we do."

-Sly and the Family Stone

The history of the human race is written with countless struggles of persecuted people against their oppressors. Race, along with gender and religion, has been a classic dividing line and for millennia, judging people according to the color of their skin was considered simply to be the way the world worked.

Though change has burbled up in different places at different times, here in the United States, a nation founded on the idea of freedom, we have struggled mightily with the concept of race.

In the mid-1800s, abolitionists raised their voices to demand change in the nation's attitudes toward slavery.

The American Civil War was fought in the 1860s at great cost of human life to bring that system of degradation and dehumanization to and end. 

During the 1960s, a new wave of civil rights swept over the country, attempting to wipe away the ugly vestiges of slavery that still lingered in the form of Jim Crow laws, segregation, suppressed voting rights, and ugly discrimination.

I remember those days. 

The calm, measured tones of Martin Luther King Jr. and his beautiful leadership of nonviolent protest. 

The dignity of artists of the day - Sidney Poitier, Maya Angelou, Jimi Hendrix, Jacob Lawrence, Berry Gordy Jr. - who showed us the rich treasures of black contributions to our culture

And I remember the violence of race riots and street wars that swept the country, including my own Detroit, as black tempers boiled over in frustrations at the slow progress Americans made in recognizing and respecting our black brothers and sisters.

I never understood those terms, black and white. Aren't we all just different shades of brown?

I'm very thankful that my mother raised me to value people of all colors. When I was four or five, I remember telling her that I didn't understand how people could think skin color mattered, because it's just the outside layer of our bodies. If everyone is the same on the inside, how could their color make any difference?

 "Yes. You're right," she told me. "We're all the same."

And I've always been grateful for that.

Amidst the terrible chaos of the sixties, I often thought, Surely America is finally learning her lesson. By the time I'm grown up, we will all live in love. 

And I must point out that things did get better. As much as we still find ourselves today walking the edge of the sharp blade of racism, I can cite one simple example of just how far we have come: Until 1967, interracial marriage was literally against the law. And for as long as two decades after that, even though I lived near one major college campus and attended another, and then worked in the heart of a major city, I did not know a since interracial couple nor did I see them anywhere in the world. Nowadays, mixed race couples show up routinely in everyday life and barely even register in our awareness. In some ways, we have learned to live together. 

But sadly, maddeningly, horrifically, racial violence continues. And that is unacceptable. 

Why? I ask myself, over and over, with each new name added to the list of dead black men, needlessly killed at the hands of whites.

Why can't we learn this simple lesson to judge our brothers and sisters not by the color of their skin but by the content of their character?

I daresay no one knows why it's taking us so long.

Yes, we need to improve our social systems to prevent the outrageous acts of police violence against black citizens, to correct imbalanced sentencing practices, to call out our leaders - especially our president - who shamelessly expose their racist attitudes.

We need to vote carefully, use our power as citizens to speak out, and hold our institutions accountable to building a fair and equitable society for people of all colors.

But I am convinced that the truest, deepest answer to our problem is profoundly simple.

In our day-to-day interactions, we with the palest skin have a special responsibility to treat all our brothers and sisters with


We are all everyday people, and it's high time that as a nation, we started acting like it. 

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