Grievances expressed by black Americans are real and in need of being urgently and meaningfully addressed, and in many cases redressed.
However, since the largely peaceful demonstrations that were instrumental in the passage of the 1964 Civil Rights Act we have seen those grievances evolve into riots and destruction in cities across the nation. The civil rights movement was underway when I was a college student, full of hope and controversy, and largely peaceful thanks to the leadership of Martin Luther King, Jr.
That kind of leadership is obviously absent today, and has been since King’s assassination in 1968, another year of racial rioting.
While I can understand the frustration and even rage at a nation that appears to pay only lip service to racial equality, I have to wonder why many of the myriad facets of racial prejudice are being ignored by those who could do the most to overcome them.
In my experience, people earn respect through their behavior, not by demanding it. Stereotypes are created and maintained by the perceived behavior of a cohort, although they are certainly strengthened by pre-existing prejudice. And prejudice is expressed in often subtle ways that effectively keep people isolated by race, religion, and ethnicity and can therefore be extremely difficult to overcome. But prejudice can be overcome, primarily by determined action by individuals and groups in the form of behavior that commands respect.
Rioting does not command respect. The emotions that give rise to rioting can be sympathized with, but the rioting cannot. In the current environment of incivility among people holding widely divergent views it has become apparent that shouting and retreating into shallow sloganeering instead of reasonable, informed, and thoughtful discussion has become the norm with the result that we remain a people polarized seemingly beyond ever reaching agreement on anything of importance.
So it is with rioting. It solves nothing, reinforces negative stereotypes, and makes overcoming prejudice even more difficult. And yet it continues and repeats. National and local leadership doesn’t seem to have much constructive impact on the problem, as illustrated by the ineffectiveness of the immediate past president, a man uniquely qualified to have helped had he wished to do so. So it falls to leaders within the cohort trying to overcome the prejudice that causes such frustration and anger to change the approach; to insist on dignity, self-discipline, achievement rather than destruction and criminality. I’m still looking for those leaders.
It also falls to leaders at every level of government, local, regional, and national to insist that the public they serve is treated fairly. The examples of improper behavior by a tiny minority of law enforcement officers is a clear and glaring failure of leadership. When I was a U.S. Army company commander in the early ’70s that kind of failure of leadership routinely resulted in the summary removal of the immediate commander. If you fail to maintain the discipline of your organization and your people, you should be removed from your position of leadership. So, leaders, certainly charge those within your organization who violate the law, but you had better take immediate and lasting action to see that it is not repeated. That’s your job. If you don’t do your job you should not retain the privilege of command/leadership.
It’s time for grownups from all walks of life to assert themselves in favor of doing what’s necessary to make America truly great again.