Stranger in a Strange Country

America is a ghostly specter. The year 2020 is not yet half over, but it poised to become one of the most eventful years in our history. At least our modern history.  This is becoming a year of change.  The ship is turning, slowly, but either the country evolves, or it will break apart. The fractures are there.  The country is resilient, but it needs to use this strength to engineer some changes.  The time is now.  Strangely, the pandemic and Black Lives Matter protests have at times intersected, over the issues of freedom and liberty.  I am still waiting for the giant Asian hornets to join the discussion.

 

The greatness of America is still the power of optimism and opportunity.  Still, less so for people of color. Let’s be honest.

The origins of this country are tied to escaping a class system and forced beliefs.  Great principles, but in practice, that has not always been the case. We burned and drowned suspected witches, interned Japanese-Americans, imported slaves, denied equal rights to women and minorities, and rigged the tax and legal systems to benefit the wealthy, who have been disproportionately white. Let’s be honest.

Time after time, this country has been implored to do the right thing, and we’ve either ignored it, diluted it or used it as a weapon.

America is not perfect, it never has been. Yet, our government was established on principles of fairness and justice, even in a time that slavery was legal and women could not vote. Over time, the scales of justice moved, but not far enough. There is a system for those with money, and those who can not afford personalized legal representation, and bail.

We have turned the Bible and Christianity inside out to justify greed, hate and intolerance. And in the face of protests, the Archie Bunkers have opened fire on dissent, and once again used the words, if you don’t love it, leave.  The language of bullies.

America was founded on dissent and freedom.  That is what has separated us from the Soviet Union (and now Russia), China, North Korea, Cuba, Nazi Germany and other authoritarian countries.  We formed a society to provide for the welfare and greater good of all, including the people we did not like. That means giving up part of our individual freedom for the best interests of all. We are not a country of islands, where everyone does their own thing. We provide a system of representation to make decisions for our interests and protection. Government 101.

Sadly, there is less interest today in working together to solve problems and to close the gap of divisiveness.  Compromise is a foul word. Bipartisanship will generally not get you elected. Policy-making is not the act of bullying, or it should not be. The intent is not winners and losers. The intent is create good public policy to serve the public’s needs.  To be just and fair in making and carrying out policies.

I attended a Black Lives Matter rally that was co-sponsored by the city I work for.  That is right, my city was approached to be part of a march and rally to talk about equity, justice and change.  The march was from city hall to the public commons in downtown, about a mile. City officials agreed.

I live in an upscale county, historically not very diverse, through the years it became a suburban retreat from the nearby large city. My city’s growing diversity is in part from educated professionals who have located here for the business, technical and medical jobs. And for the quality schools. It is expensive to live here, even in the vast forest of apartment complexes.

Having a rally and march in a city made up of mostly moderate and conservative residents, supported by that city’s government, and with the involvement of the police department – this is a notable event.  I am not naive to think that the entire community supported this rally, they do not.  I doubt even a majority of my cul-de-sac neighbors truly understand and support this movement.

KCM_OPBlackLivesMatterJun20
Black Lives Matter Protest March (Courtesy of the Kansas City Star)

I saw many representatives of the city administration and city council in attendance.  Our police chief spoke to a polite, but cautious crowd.  He was the only Caucasian invited to speak.  I applaud him for embracing a mostly skeptical audience, but he did well, and I told him so.

“The assumption is that our community members that live in the suburbs feel that any movement in support of Black Lives Matter or anything that supports the Black community is going to result in violence … we’re going to disband that belief,” said event organizer Linnaia McKenzie to the Kansas City Star.

I only give you this background because change is happening and not all of it is in plain sight.  This rally is one-step on a long journey.  Looking out on the gathered crowd, there were faces of many colors and age groups represented.  On one side of me were mainly older, white people like myself.  On the other side, younger African-Americans and Latinos.  I wonder if those young people of color looked at me and wondered what I knew about the experiences they were wanting to change.  Older, white, middle class – what could I know about struggle, prejudice or systematic racism? Not nearly enough.  I know of these issues, have railed against them most of my life, but I have never lived them.  From that standpoint, I am a stranger.

At times, we all feel like strangers in our own country.  Maybe we should.


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