One of the unanticipated benefits of keeping a blog I have discovered is having the ability to revisit some of the ideas you held in the past. Similar to how a familiar song can help you instantly recall memories of your past, rereading what you wrote can remind you of what you used to be concerned with and how you previously thought about certain topics. A little blast from the past in a way.
For every post that I have published there has typically been at least one other left in draft form and unpublished. Sometimes these drafts weren’t posted because the ideas weren’t fully formed. Sometimes I wasn’t comfortable with the language I was using and was a bit afraid to share my thoughts. Sometimes I thought the post wound up being really boring and wasn’t worth sharing. Whatever the reason for not publishing these posts, they have been a joy to reread recently. Did I think and feel about these topics in the same way today? Would I have said things differently?
One old draft in particular caught my attention. This particular one was drafted shortly after the death of Freddie Gray in Baltimore, which was a little over four years ago. You may remember that riots occurred in the aftermath of his death. Tensions flared because this unfolded during an especially volatile time nationwide with police and African American relations in the spotlight. I grew up not too far outside that city. I frequently visited the Inner Harbor with my family for Orioles games and with classmates to visit the aquarium. I have fond memories of the place so this story in particular caught my attention.
I figured I would share a snippet of that draft post I wrote at that time.
“The riots that have occurred. The fires. The stones thrown at cops. The stones thrown back at the rioters. All over a lost life. A young man very similar to several others who have experienced similar stories in these past months and years. The story is too familiar. It’s too repetitive to be a coincidence. There is a huge issue at hand. And both sides are aggressively making their cases that the other side is completely wrong, uncaring, barbarian, and deserves punishment. And if both sides keep pushing, fighting, and pointing fingers, I don’t see us moving anywhere anytime soon.
I’ll admit that I have been wrong. Growing up I thought that everyone had the freedoms to be able to take advantage of opportunities and turn things around for themselves but I’m realizing more and more that I was wrong. There is a clear inequality that exists between classes in this society that is contributing to the issues we’re seeing and it’s one that should be addressed.“
Some loaded words there… especially for me. I’m not usually one to use heightened language like that, but there it was. I never finished this post. I didn’t offer a solution by the time I finished writing. I didn’t have a suggested stance or disposition to recommend beyond realizing myself that issues were present and a feeling that something (whatever that something is I don’t know) should be done.
I’m not exactly sure where I intended to take the rest of the post at that time, if I had a resolution in mind, but the sentiment and feelings I had I think are evident in this passage: that not all of the tension and violence between law enforcement and members of the African American community should be attributable to individual responsibility on part of the African American community. My reasoning was a realization that there were significant class differences, perpetuated by longstanding issues of racial discrimination, rooted centuries in the past in slavery, and still propagating in segregation and discriminatory behaviors up until just a few generations ago. That systemic racism is a real thing. Even though I wouldn’t define myself in this way at the time, I was, as some would say, “woke.”
I never shared this at the time. The post was never finished so I’m not sure if it was because I was fearful to share these thoughts, or just that I hadn’t finished grappling with them. So why am I sharing this now? With the Democratic presidential debates underway, the topics of social justice, reparations for slavery, gender equality and equity are all hot button topics of discussion and the conversation can often get heated around these topics.
Questions arise… How much of people’s struggles are due to systemic issues out of their hands and how many are the result of personal choices? How much disparity between economic and social outcomes are attributable to race, gender, class, and what we would now consider the errors of our forefathers? Should we try, and if so how do we try, to mend and heal the wounds of the past? Is legislation the appropriate, or even a plausible approach for making amends?
I found this recent article by Patricia Cohen in the New York Times to be quite interesting and I think a politically balanced overview worth reading on the topic of reparations. Among the many interesting tidbits she shares, she notes that economist David H. Swinton estimated in 1983 that 40 to 60 percent of the disparity between white and black incomes are due to historic and ongoing discrimination. Additionally, she mentions that as the Civil War ended that General William T. Sherman made a promise to redistribute a large section of land along the Atlantic Coastline to black Americans recently freed from slavery that had the support of Lincoln. But that plan was later rescinded by President Andrew Johnson. And on top of that she made reference to the reparations we made after the Japanese internment camps ended and those made by Germany to the Jewish people as examples of reparations previously executed. One considerable difference I’ll note though, is that these reparations were made almost immediately after the cessation of the harmful acts. They were handled much more rapidly than the case being discussed in America today.
I only share that to say that there is credibility to the statement that the sins of the past have bearing on the present and that there is precedence for reparations in similar cases and we, as a nation, previously considered them shortly after the abolition of slavery. I am not prepared to give a vote to support or disparage either side of this particular debate. These are incredibly complicated issues and warrant a large investment of time, study, and conversations with others. A sufficient investment I don’t feel I have made yet to date.
But I do want to explore how we discuss these issues. I believe this question of how we converse is the bigger underlying issue to be addressed, and one that, if addressed, will help us navigate through these incredibly complex issues like social justice, equity, equality and reparations. Because let’s be honest, is there really a debate or discussion occurring on these topics currently?
In my next post I’m going to explore what I believe are the two biggest threats to having a productive conversation on these topics. And then I want to share in the following post a couple of overlooked and undervalued principles that I think are necessary to help us move in a more positive direction. These are incredibly sensitive topics and ones that I intend to handle delicately. I hope you’ll join me in this conversation over the next few posts as we explore these issues of social justice and reform. And hopefully some good conversation can result. That we can make an investment of time, thought, and conversation in trying to grapple with these incredibly important and difficult topics.