Thursday, May 1, 2014

Can We All Get Along?

On this day in 1992, Rodney King, whose beating by Los Angeles police caught on video sparked riots, said, “Can we all get along?” (It's often misquoted, but the gist is usually right.)

Apparently not. Racism continues to fester, both subtle and overt. Police brutality thrives. Hate speech is more widely disseminated than it was in 1992, courtesy of the internet.

Good people try not to be racist. When they identify such leanings in themselves, they seek to erase them. But for many, such feelings crop up again. We humans are programed to recognize patterns, to fear what is different because it can be a danger. It may have helped us make it this far, but now it's holding us back.

One of my own more shame-inducing moments occurred years ago, when I was jogging on the street. A car passed, and the men in it shouted, one cheering me onward. They were black.

If they'd been white, I'd have thought either Stupid teenagers or Jerks, but my WTF? reaction was tinged with fear. Sure, I was in a residential area where cars were not infrequent. Nothing was going to happen. But I was substantially more uneasy because the men yelling were black.

A few weeks later, it happened again. Now I was getting angry, with myself for having this reaction, with the black man—this time driving alone—for calling out. Perhaps another month after that, again a car with several black guys.

The worst moment was when I returned to the gym when the weather made running unsafe. The personal trainer who'd taught me to use the weight resistant equipment in proper form mentioned he'd seen me running several times during the summer and was glad I'd kept in shape. "I called out 'Way to go!' and all, but I didn't think you heard me, even though I couldn't see any headphones."

The trainer was black, and I was ashamed.

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