What does America dream of?
What does it mean to be American?
As a nation, where are we going? How do we plan to get there?
As a matter of habit, I try to stay away from addressing controversial topics via online social media because, let’s face it,social media is a terrible forum for any substantive conversation. The anonymity of the internet, coupled with the lack of nonverbal communication allows for ample opportunity for miscommunication and downright nastiness to emerge. The times I did try to engage in political/racial/intellectual conversations online usually ended after a couple hours with my blood pressure in the red zone, having written 20 pages worth of comments to someone who is typing in ALL CAPS, and my evening and possibly (depending on how many clever things I should have said come to me afterwards) next morning ruined. My time is usually much better spent watching re-runs of The Love Boat.
I’ve tried to find ways to think about the problem of race in America. And being honest, it’s a thorny issue. Emotionally charged. Confusing. Exhausting. Manifestation and consequences of race in America permeate everything from our television to political gerrymandering. Books have been written by better thinkers, writers, and human beings than I. Even so, I still wrestle with it, in order to try to figure out why, in 2016, being non-white, often feels like 2nd class citizenship.
During the events of the previous week, someone on social media asked the question why?
Why were these things happening? What caused the sniper in Dallas? What is the root cause of the protests? How did we get here?
I don’t know if I have the same questions. I feel like I have a grasp on the why’s and what’s. (Feelings, of course, can be deceiving). I think anyone who has looked (critically) at the history of America should have a loose idea of the issues that haven’t been addressed and why that might cause some frustration.
But.. There is something that I am having a hard time wrapping my head around. Something I’m still struggling to figure out. And it’s not the problem of racism in America. As I conceptualize the “race in America” problem. I don’t think it’s an insurmountable one. Or even a problem that would take superhuman levels to start to address.
I actually see, in America’s reaction to the problem, a bigger issue.
What I am frustrated with our Nation’s complacency in the face of real issues. And to be fair with America, it’s not an isolated issue. America finds itself unable to move on a variety of issues – for the same reason that it finds itself unable to address systemic racism. [Although, I think Andy Stanley did a masterful job of starting the conversation]
In areas of social justice, and other policy issues America seems to be addicted to comfort.
This “addiction to comfort”is a evidenced in the reaction of Americans to the tough issues of our time. I see this addiction in our half-hearted condolences in the families of gun violence, in our unwillingness to come up with substantive plans to tackle global warming (Candidates positions on Global Warming), dragging our feet on addressing social net programs, being willing to be distracted from real issues in order to feed our outrage addiction..because anger makes us feel like we’re doing something, although the world changes not one whit because of how we feel.
It seems as if we’ve (collectively) lost the ability to look past the present, see a distant/future good, and sacrifice in the moment in order to attain these things.
How does this crack-comfort manifest itself?
You see this evidenced in the decline of the American personal savings rate. In the intractability of Congress, our willingness to be distracted by news about transgender bathrooms as we try to bomb our way out of a leadership vacuum in the middle east.
A personal anecdote: During the hubbub around the police-related shootings and the dallas sniper I got the opportunity to talk to a older caucasian lady at my local drug store. Somehow, as it happens when two people meet and know they will see each other again, we stumbled into the topic of all that was happening in the country. We both bemoaned the negative incidents we were seeing in the country, and then before we could really start talking about specific problems and perhaps what was behind the outpouring of anger from the African-American community, this lady mentioned that she just couldn’t wait for “Jesus to come back and take us all away”.
I didn’t know how to respond, other than with an affirmative nod and forlorn shrug.
Now, I hesitate to assign my interpretation to this woman’s comments but I felt like she was missing the boat. Not just because I don’t think Jesus is going to return in order (and in time) to save us from all of our messes, but because I think this hands off approach seems to be a spiritual version of the esprit of the times.
I think, Jesus being an example we all strive for, that instead of waiting for someone to come along with the answers (ala Donald Trump) we must instead become our own answers. Seek to understand the problems we’re facing, and strive to come up with solutions that might work. Some of them may fail. But, when we adopt an attitude that refuses to even glance in the direction of the problem and hoping that something will come along and distract us from the issues that we are facing is a recipe for disaster.
This attitude, in my mind, is what frustrates many about the discourse around hard topics. 100 people killed by a nut with an assault weapon? “Oh gosh. That’s unfortunate, I hate that (shrug).” Black people being killed? “Man that’s rough, try to be nice to be the police”. The education system failing? “Wish we could do something about it”. Global warming might wreck the environment for our children. “Is Global warming even a thing?”
This general, uneasy, shuffling of feet that doesn’t lead to solutions frustrates me to no end. There are solutions. As human beings finding these tough solutions is what has allowed us to make it past the caves of Africa to 2016.
Let’s get on it Humans.
P.s. My feelings as I was writing this were a moving target. My frustration with the lack of effort put toward finding solutions or even acknowledging problems continues to remain consistent but after many conversations, I find the shades of grey and different viewpoints make it tough adequately think about this post in its entirety ..But I did want to get my initial thoughts down.