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What will it take to understand we are all the same?

Guest Commentary

I have been watching the news about the murder of George Floyd and once again it is clear systemic racism is the rot of America. The ugliness of this underbelly is on full display for all America to witness. There aren’t any platitudes or feel-good adages that can make the fanatical bigotry called racism any less terrible.

The murder of George Floyd is one in a long line of murders of black men. Alton Sterling, Michael Brown, Edward Lamont Hunt, Jonathan Ferrell, to name just some of the victims of police shootings and brutality where little was done. The fact is racism permeates every aspect of life and extends to communities of color especially. The rise of the alt-right movement, which is a white nationalist coalition that wants to expel minorities from the United States has a huge following. An example of their work is Charlottesburg, Va., in August of 2017, when a white supremacist drove his car into a group of protesters and killed one person and injured 19 others. Why? Because the white supremacist was full of hate for those who didn’t share his xenophobic views.

After this horrific event, the president of the United States, Donald Trump, declared there were good people on both sides of that event. I don’t think “good” people who carry the swastika or the Confederate flag have “good” intentions.

As infantile, bigoted and narcissistic as Donald Trump is, racism didn’t start with him. It’s unfortunate he became the president of the United States, though, because he fans malicious discrimination that exists in our country. Mr. Trump uses this vitriolic rhetoric to agitate his base of like-minded individuals into thinking that people of color are the enemy. “Make America Great Again” can translate into “Make America White Again.”

In the case of Ahmaud Arbery, a white father and son, Gregory and Travis McMichael  saw Mr. Arbery and shot him point-blank after chasing him. These two men thought Mr. Arbery was a burglar, even though all he was doing was jogging and ran in and out of a house under construction. I don’t think the McMichaels would have considered such a heinous act if Mr. Arbery had been white.

The truth is unarmed black people are killed at five times the rate of unarmed white people. Is this because of personal biases, fear or the basic mistrust between the police and the minority communities they may serve? I think it is all of the above. We are all products of our environment as children. How we think is formed when we are young by our parents, extended family, schools and the norms of the day. Ignorance and intolerance are taught, not characteristics we are born with. 

I have met many good and decent police officers who abhor these police shootings as much as we all do. They don’t sanction any kind of brutality and do their jobs honorably. Unfortunately, we have those police officers who abuse their power and eclipse those who don’t.

What does it take for human beings to understand we are all the same ­­— human! When will a person be judged for the content of their character and not the color of their skin? Martin Luther King asked this question and his answer was his murder.

For all the changes of our laws, attitudes and social and political triumphs, we still have that rotten under-core of racism. Until it changes in the hearts of people, we will continue to have police shootings, dehumanizing language, narrow mindedness and intolerance. Yes, we have made progress in our country, but there is still a long road ahead of us. Perhaps there will come a day in the future where we can look at our neighbors and see them, and not just their race, culture or nationality.

 

Gretchen M. Gordon lives in Sharon.

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