“Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.”
Martin Luther King, Jr
Baltimore burns and the nation cringes. We see the non-stop coverage on CNN, the same inflammatory images repeating on an endless loop. Hate is like that, too. It doesn’t stop until we turn it off; unfortunately many people are turning it up, until rhetoric is a scream which drowns out any sort of hope to solve the underlying problems. The racial problems in this country, from economic disparities and police violence, to political disenfranchisement must be addressed. The nation is hurting and the rage seethes just beneath the surface, spilling out into the streets with increasing ferocity.
I’ve seen a staggering number of internet posts claiming that our current racial tensions are President Obama’s fault. The people who believe that are deluded. When Obama was elected the racists kicked into high gear, really putting their backs into it, finding ways to sow fear and cruelty and divisiveness. Hate-mongers with microphones and laptops have done their best to frame issues in the meanest, most lopsided ways possible, worsening a greater problem.
So the cycle continues something like this: poverty, lack of opportunity, and a toxic environment lead to a feeling of powerless, gut-wrenching anger. When racial profiling and police brutality are not only systemic, but systematically denied by governments, those same people get even angrier. They protest. Most of them are peaceful, but violence erupts, gasoline on the fire. While the news spends 90% of its time playing the inflammatory images of police getting hit by bricks or of stores burning, the media misses the greater story. The country misses the truth, and the truth is not black and white. The greater story, the real one, is more complicated… it’s more than one story. The one where blacks and whites are working together for positive change. The story of children handing out water bottles to police officers, cops risking their lives to save teenagers, grandmothers and fathers marching for justice that has thus far been elusive. The story that black teenagers know all too well, of the conversation their parents had with them when they first got their driver’s license. “If you get pulled over, keep your hands in sight at all time. Say ‘yes, sir,’ and don’t make any sudden moves.” White kids don’t get that talk.
White people and black people alike are appalled by this violence in Baltimore. It’s counter-productive. It only serves to confirm racist suspicions coiled around the back of many people’s minds, triggering otherwise sane and seemingly decent people to spout bile like Linda Blair in The Exorcist. Rather than stepping back for a moment and asking why these people are so angry, it’s easier to say “what kind of people burn their own city?”
And there it is, couched in what passes for discourse and news coverage. Words like us and them…Those people. There is an “otherness” about the dialogue, rather than a togetherness. Hate, rather than love.
Racism and bigotry are a choice. If this nation is to heal, each of us must do some collective soul-searching. We’ve got to choose love over hate. We must place a priority on our nation’s future, and that means creating more jobs and educational opportunities, putting an end to the bloodbath taking place every day in our inner cities. It means voting for leaders who recognize the severity of the problem and who offer realistic ways to address it, regardless of what party they happen to be affiliated with.
Rather than be outraged at the violence we’re seeing on the news, we should be shocked for the reasons it is happening. We must come together as one people in the spirit of unity and love, for that is the only way to end this cycle of hate.