Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Deja Vu 1968

(Photo courtesy CNN)
I woke this morning to the news on my radio that riots had erupted in Baltimore last night.  Riots?  What year is this?  Suddenly, I felt powerless and inadequate to face the day.  Now I can say that my parents shielded me from most of the upheaval during the late 1960's, and for that I'm grateful, I suppose.  But this is different.  The full force of the emotions hit me, pushing me down in my bed. 

Black Lives Matter.  Watching the events of the last year, the number of shootings by police against unarmed Black men, I have thought this new "phase"? in the racial struggle in this country really began with the murder of Trayvon Martin in 2012.  Have we legislated everything that we can cover with legislation regarding race relations?  We continue to work on making everyone equal under the law.  But I think the present "phase" is exposing something far deeper and harder to change: core beliefs.

We learn, as individuals, our core beliefs about our families, other people, and our society from our parents. They have complete control and power to pass on their beliefs not only by words but also by their behavior.  My father, whom I think of now as being extremely prejudiced against anyone who didn't look and think like him, i.e. White Anglo-Saxon Protestant Male, preached that we were to treat everyone with the same basic human respect, no matter who they were or their station in life. He also preached that we should never let anyone know what we really thought of them.  To my father, the White Anglo-Saxon Protestant Patriarchy was the norm, the best system, and not in need of change by women or Jews or African-Americans.

As a child, I had one Black friend, many Jewish friends, no Asian friends, and I knew both rich and poor kids.  I was encouraged to stay within "my own kind" at school and in social situations, but I tended to ignore this.  My paternal grandmother had a much different view of the world because she had lived and taught among the Navajo in the Southwest as a young woman before she married.  She thought that there was no one right way to live, no one right race, no one right religion or politics.  But...my father's edicts remain deep in my mind, often influencing my behavior without me even realizing it.  I can be thinking one thing but doing something else in subtle ways.  This deeply disturbs me.  I don't want to be this way.

I understand intellectually that what needs to happen for me is a deep excavation of my core beliefs, an examination of them, and then replacing them with core beliefs that best reflect my life choices now and not my parents' core beliefs.  I have worked for years to remove one layer of beliefs after another, and yet I don't think that I've reached the very core yet.  This is where I think our society is, too.  Since the Civil Rights Movements in the 1950's and 1960's, we have been slowly, glacially, removing attitudes and beliefs that oppress and discriminate against African-Americans (and women, and others), but they are only the top layers that can be addressed on a societal level.

What's now needed is much, much more difficult and will take one or two more generations to accomplish: for parents to consciously change their core beliefs that they pass on to their children, and their children will pass on to their children.  This change must occur voluntarily in order to actually happen.  No one can truly force another person to change unless that person wants to change.  That means that every individual must agree to change and on what the change needs to be.  Oh, yeah, try legislating that

(Photo from ZEROFiltered)

Black Lives Matter.  I'm not certain I've heard all that happened to Freddie Gray when he was arrested by Baltimore police, or all the ways in which they treated him (CNN report here).  What I have heard suggests to me that the police treated him with the utmost disrespect and disregard for his personal safety and well being.  Did the police behave this way because of their belief that they have police power and cannot be punished if they wield it?  Why didn't they provide medical care to Mr. Gray more quickly?  Did they see Mr. Gray as a human being or as a subhuman creature?  What were they thinking?

Freddie Gray
When and how did Mr. Gray sustain a spinal cord injury in police custody that would kill him?  No one, no one, should sustain such a serious, life-threatening injury in police custody, ever.

The sensation of powerlessness and inadequacy cascades through my body again.  There's nothing I can do but talk, write.  Could it possibly make a difference?  When will we Americans, as individuals, make the choice to change our core beliefs about race and human rights?

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