When I was a little girl we didn't usually have serious discussions at the dinner table, but as I grew up, we did, sometimes. My father would often explain why he felt a certain way about a political issue, or why he was voting for a particular candidate, or the correct way to view a situation that he felt the media wasn't covering accurately. We would also laugh and tell funny stories or jokes. What I remember well, though, is him patiently explaining things to me and my brother, and my mom sitting there quietly nodding.
Of course, like all kids, I grew up and rebelled. When Ronald Reagan was elected I voted for him because my father drove to my college and picked me up, took me personally to the polling place so I could vote for the first time, and then after dinner at home drove me all the way back to school. He told me to vote for Reagan. I figured he knew best. In the years that followed I regretted that decision, particularly after I learned that money for college loans had been cut and some of my friends had to drop out of school. I also learned that Reagan refused to acknowledge the AIDS crisis or push for more funding for research. So I don't really agree with folks who say how great he was, because he wasn't, to me. I graduated from college in 1984, the "boom" time, Republicans would say, and I couldn't find a job anywhere.
When I realized that my dad could possibly be wrong sometimes I started researching how to argue with him, and win. We would get into shouting matches, at times. I remember a vigorous debate on the topic of abortion; then and now a very controversial topic.
What he taught me, in a broader sense, was that there are always many sides to an issue. If you're going to argue, you need to educate yourself about the issues and argue from a place of knowledge, not just be reactionary.
I've watched in horror the riots in Charlotte in the past few days, and the reaction to the shooting in Oklahoma. I am very sympathetic to the black men who were killed, and their families. I am also sympathetic to the police officers.
First, I should explain that although I grew up in the Deep South, I was raised by Republican parents who went out of their way to make sure I was NOT a racist. In the South, Democrats were the party of segregation when my parents were young. Just FYI. My parents rejected the Democratic party for a lot of reasons but that was a biggie. I was never allowed to use the N word, ever. We had black maids but I had to be respectful, and I never saw either of my parents be rude or disrespectful to any black person, ever. When I started first grade in 1968 I went to a private school, the Episcopal Day School, and there was a black child in my class. The next year I went to public school and there were no black children in the entire school. Then we moved to Knoxville when I was 8 and I was exposed to a more diverse population, although there were very few black families in my part of town. We had, as I recall, one Asian family and one Hispanic family in my middle class neighborhood. (Don't laugh, that was pretty diverse for that time and place.) I never really thought about it as a child. They were just kids, to me. Knoxville was not a terribly diverse place in the 1970's but neither was it a horribly racist place either.
I digressed, a bit. Sorry.
What most white Americans are only now slowly starting to comprehend is that black Americans have always dealt with racism and racial profiling, and it didn't magically disappear after the Civil Rights movement took hold. It continues, and it has made their lives far more stressful than any white person can ever imagine.
We don't know what it's like to be stopped and harassed by police for absolutely no reason. I had a black work friend years ago who lived in a very nice home, and she told me her husband was stopped all the time by police when he drove through his own neighborhood to his own house. He drove a new car, dressed nicely, and had a college degree and a high-paying job and he was STILL harassed.
My friend who told me about that came from a very affluent and well-educated family. Yet, she had grown up knowing that before her birth her own grandfather had been murdered by the KKK, hung from a tree in his own front yard.
So I am highly sympathetic to the fact that the police stop and harass black folks, and Hispanic folks in some areas, and possibly Asian or other minorities in some areas. It happens every day. It SHOULD NOT happen.
However, my curse has always been that I see both sides to every issue.
My first cousin's son is a police detective. He is out there every day, in the community. He was a uniformed officer for several years. He puts his life in danger every time he steps outside his home. That is his job.
I'm sure police officers have a very heightened awareness of danger because they face it all the time. I cannot imagine the stress of knowing every time I left my house to go to work that I might be killed or seriously injured - not just as random possibilities but as statistical possibilities.
According to the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund: "A total of 1,439 law enforcement officers died in the line of duty during the past 10 years, an average of one death every 61 hours or 144 per year. There were 123 law enforcement officers killed in the line of duty in 2015."
AND - "There have been 15,725 assaults against law enforcement officers in 2014, resulting in 13,824 injuries."
Does that risk, give police the right to harass folks who are not white, or to harass ANYONE? No, of course not.
I was a paralegal for many years, and a few years ago I was writing blogs for attorneys. I got an online publication that listed new lawsuits and settlements of lawsuits and I was shocked by how many of those suits involved incidents of police misconduct. It's nothing new.
I think there are solutions to the issues we're facing, as a society, but they are not easy or fast solutions. The problem has been brewing for a long time and it won't be solved quickly or easily.
The problem, however, can be basically boiled down to one word: FEAR
Police fear black folks and black folks fear the police. There is terrible history there.
Are riots and looting the answer? I don't think so. I understand why there are riots and looting. I totally get that. Anger and frustration reach a boiling point. However, riots solve nothing. They accomplish nothing good.They make the police more tense and fearful, as they struggle to control things. Fear breeds fear. Mistrust breeds mistrust.
We have to start and educate our children about Love and Forgiveness. Then we have to be diligent. We have to keep those words in the forefront of their consciousness.They have to be active verbs, not passive new-agey verbs.
We have to talk. Both sides have to be heard and respected.
Both sides have to replace Fear with Love and Forgiveness. What does that process look like? I don't fully know, nor does anybody.
However, we do know that what's happening now - the senseless shootings, the riots, the misunderstandings - those things must be replaced. We have to discard what doesn't work and figure out what does work, and that is going to be a process. In this age of quick fixes and instant gratification, we don't like to do difficult things. We want everything solved in the blink of an eye. That's not going to happen.
I've told my kids I don't care who they love so long as they love a good person. Race is irrelevant. Both my kids are mixed race themselves. They've gone to very diverse schools since they've lived in America. My daughter's boyfriend is black, so obviously she listened.
There's a famous quote that the journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step. We have to educate our children. We have to take that step. We have to replace Fear with Love and Forgiveness, or the cycle of violence and mistrust will never end.