I don’t want to write about this.
Even as I type, there’s this weird feeling in the pit of my stomach. It’s the feeling of imminent dread; like I know I’m about to be sent to the principal’s office, no matter what I say or how I word it.
I know – even before I finish writing this – that I won’t put something the right way or I won’t actually think about something the way I should think about it or I will have a blind spot somewhere. I am told this all the time – literally every hour of every day. So I know it will be true. And I’m giving you fair warning for the rest of whatever this is.
Honestly, I’d rather just let it go and move on. But I’ve been told in no uncertain terms that silence is “noticeable and deafening.” So I feel compelled to say something. And we have to start being honest with each other.
So, I take a breath, and here goes …
I don’t post videos on my Facebook page, of any sort of “breaking news” story. It is my personal opinion that that is how incomplete information spreads too easily on social media.
So, you’re welcome to scroll through my wall and try to find any Coronoa Virus conspiracy videos or Nick Sandeman videos, or Jusse Smollette videos or anything that looks like it was shot on an iPhone, that isn’t me or directly related to me, or isn’t something funny and/or silly.
I just don’t participate in immediate outrage about anything.
It’s always my policy to wait and watch and listen and consider before I post. It is my personal experience that when I violate that policy, I often end up regretting it. And nobody wants to be wrong. Maybe that is one of the biggest problems we have.
I saw just enough of the George Floyd video to know I was watching a murder. And I just had no words. And yet I still didn’t post the video. And I don’t know if that was a right or wrong decision. I have a lot of kids who follow me. I like to keep it light and funny. I save the heavy stuff for my blog.
So here we are …
But all my black friends posted it immediately. They were (and are) in a state of almost inconsolability. And as a white man, I honestly don’t know what to say to them. What can you say?
You can post the obligatory, “THIS HAS TO STOP!” thing…in all caps…you know, to make sure everybody knows exactly where you stand on racism.
You can post the long, meandering, run-on paragraph indictment of America that will hopefully inoculate you as a white person from any culpability associated with the death of an innocent person.
You can go the other way and dig your heels into the “this doesn’t represent all cops” narrative or even the “what about that video of the white guy in Kansas that got the same treatment by the cops – why isn’t THAT getting any press coverage” route.
You can post some extremely crass meme of football players taking a knee right next to the cop with his knee on George Floyd’s neck, with a caption that reads, “THIS is why they took a knee” or some other horribly opportunist quip. Dear lord …
You can blame this on Trump by trying to place that cop at one of his rallies. Or you can try to blame this on liberals and their policies. After all this IS Minnesota: bastion of liberalism and the only state Ronald Reagan didn’t carry – not the deep south.
I’ve seen all of that come up on my feed, and none of it solves anything. None of it moves anyone toward anything. None of it changes how we write the story going forward. None of it changes me. None of it changes you.
I’m not much of a spiritual or intellectual leader in my house. I stopped being able to teach my son anything when he turned 9. He teaches me, now. I usually just trying to get through the day without anybody dying or breaking anything. But occasionally I do come up with something usable.
And I have developed a question I ask all of us, as a family, whenever we are faced with any issue: do we want to fight or do we want to win?
What that means is, we can argue about something and explain our positions to each other and make our cases and retreat to our corners and insist that we’re right about whatever we’re discussing, OR we can find a solution to the problem at hand.
An example might be if the cable goes out. We can all fight about why it’s out. We can blame each other for someone not paying the bill or allowing something to lapse. We can do this all day and all night. Or we can win; we can work the problem and get to the bottom of it and get the cable back on.
If we do that, one of us might have to realize we were wrong about something in the process. But the others have to show mercy. One of us may have been right – but the cable company may not have been on the same page as us. And we then have to show mercy to them. Everyone may be right and the weather might have knocked the cable out. Then, we ALL have to accept the thing we cannot change.
Obviously the cable going out in our house is an insignificant thing. It means nothing in comparison to someone losing their life.
But I believe the concept can be applied to how we all deal with each other in the wake of something horrific. We can decide to either fight or win. And deciding to win might look different than fighting. After all, we’ve been fighting for hundreds of years.
I know I’ve already screwed this up, and will be destroyed in comments threads all over the country, but I’m going to keep going …
I didn’t know anything about people with special needs until I was raising one. I used to use the word “retard” with regularity. I thought nothing of it. I certainly didn’t want to harm anyone with a disability…but I didn’t necessarily want to hang out with them either.
You see, I didn’t think of myself as a prejudiced person toward the disabled. But I was. I just didn’t know it. But that didn’t mean I was evil toward them. I wasn’t. And when I had to walk through all the dark corridors you walk through as the caregiver to someone with a disability, I did it…and I learned…and I took on the burdens. And I changed a lot of my thinking and a hell of a lot of how I interact with the world.
I’m pushing my word count at this very moment because instead of writing “a disabled person” I wrote “a person with a disability.” Do you know why I did that? Because in the special needs community, we practice something called “people first” language.
It’s a subtle thing and it seems trivial to to some, but it means we don’t refer to that person as “disabled” first. We refer to them as a person first – followed by their particular challenge. No one is “Autistic.” They are a person first…who has Autism.
Johnny isn’t Autistic. Johnny is Johnny…who happens to have Autism.
I’ll bet most of you reading this didn’t know that. But I forgive you for not knowing. How could you know? I had to learn the hard way, by being berated by a few caregiver moms. I still get the occasional verbal beating for continuing to call my daughter “The Angel.” But I still think she is an angel. I’m working on myself and still need grace. But I digress …
Instead of fighting you over it and catching you saying it, then dropping the mic on you in an internet fight, let’s win this little battle of language a different way: let me just help you understand.
I’m not better than you. I’m not more educated than you. I’m just walking a different path than you and maybe I can show you some things I deal with on my journey.
There’s a 65% molestation rate among people with disabilities. My wife and I fear this all the time for our non-verbal daughter. But whenever we see some video of a child with Autism (not an “Autistic child”) getting locked in a closet or beaten by a babysitter when the parents leave, or forced to do something at school that triggers their sensory issues, we don’t lash out at everyone in the caregiving community.
We decide to win instead of fighting.
We make closer connections to our daughter’s teachers and caregivers. We say things more directly and less passive/aggressively to those who deal with her. We make it our business to vet (as much as possible) everyone who touches her throughout the day. And we befriend them. We don’t take adversarial stances when it isn’t warranted. We are on their side. In other words, we’re not looking for a fight. We’re looking for a win.
How do we apply a thing like this to our racial issues in the country? Again, I’m a white man and don’t pretend to have answers for any of us. But maybe if George Floyd had been seen as “person” first and “black” second, he’d still be alive. Maybe not. Maybe that cop was going to kill someone that day, regardless.
Maybe it could’ve just as easily been a white man with Autism, or an Asian kid with Down Syndrome. This is where the “fight” gets confusing …
But I would say that we as white people could start by befriending people of color. If you don’t have any black friends it’s hard to see things from their perspective. I often see posts from white friends of mine, straining everything within them to convey how “non-racist” they are, but I know for a fact that they wouldn’t feel comfortable in a room full of dark skin.
It doesn’t make them racists. It just makes them blind to certain things. And if you wouldn’t be comfortable in a room full of dark skin, imagine how people with dark skin feel most of the time in America. They are forced – just by numbers – to constantly be in rooms full of people who don’t look like them.
When they see videos of George Floyd, it’s very hard for them to put all of it in some dispassionate perspective and move on. They see their sons and daughters. They see what appears to be the cover coming off all the true covered up racism…whether that’s what it is or not.
The “whatabouts” and “yeah, buts” and “ALL lives matter” rebuttals don’t help. That’s a fight. Not a win. Maybe listening and hearing and seeing should come first, before the reactions.
For the people of color, maybe they could understand that disrespecting the flag and the anthem and all that sacred, ingrained stuff a lot of Americans hold dear, doesn’t help to get anyone to see things from your perspective.
I just watched another History Channel special on the Civil War and was again stunned by the sheer numbers of men who died in it. At least half of those deaths were laid on the alter of freedom; freedom for people of color. And that’s what all those silly American traditions represent to so many of us.
They represent a country willing to turn itself inside out to help the least of us. They represent people willing to give up their lives for the lives of those they will never meet.
I would personally like to think the country is on the side of your freedom and security and health and well-being. And when it’s not, that is the exception – not the rule.
I would like to think we could get a win with that approach and not just a fight.
For most of us, we don’t really know what to do about a situation like George Floyd. Not really. Words are cheap in the face of a murder.
I can say that I want to scream at people who look like me, who are heading toward that dark place of wanting to harm someone based on their race, “STOP IT! JUST STOP IT! WHAT THE HELL IS WRONG WITH YOU!?!?”
And I do that when I see it. But it doesn’t bring George Floyd back, and sadly, it doesn’t seem to stop the next video from surfacing that I cannot explain and feel instantly guilty for. And I’m just so weary of it.
And I know my black friends are more weary than I could ever imagine.
I’ve watched both conservative and progressive friends, alike, show the same moral outrage over this incident. And maybe that’s moving in the right direction.
But I fear it won’t be long before we descent into the, “If you voted for this or that candidate, YOU are just as guilty as the cop,” posts.
“Blood on your hands” shaming is a great political tool and it never seems to go out of style.
And that will be followed by the “what about YOUR candidate who supported this or that?!?! Now YOU’VE got blood on YOUR hands!”
And there will be more kneeling. And more defiant standing. And more outrage over the kneeling and more outrage over the not kneeling. And more outrage over the outrage. And more outrage over the outrage over the outrage.
We’ve gotten very good at picking the fight.
But I’m not sure any of it ever gets us a win.
George Floyd deserved a win.
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