Who we are

t_parade-17.jpg“Our country has changed,” Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts wrote three years ago in a majority opinion that found the landmark Voting Rights Act was being used unfairly against several states with histories of intimidation and violence toward black voters. Black voter registration has equaled white registration in many of those places and more have minorities in office, Roberts said, concluding the set of states covered by the act is based on outdated information.

The victorious lawyer for the Alabama county protesting the voting law took a more sweeping stance: “There is an old disease, and that disease is cured.”

There are plenty of things I could point to in order to show how wrong-headed this statement was, but this past week has been especially gut-punching. Following the presidential election, racial and religious assault and street harassment seem to have spiked. (Hate crimes last year jumped, too.) Black freshmen at Pennsylvania State University were unwillingly added to an online chat group about lynching. Groups of students across the country, including here in Arkansas, have led chants of phrases like “white power,” an American Nazi slogan. Speaking of Nazis: swastikas and other anti-Jewish nonsense are all over the place.

It’s all pretty nauseating and alarming and scary.

So I’m going to show a snapshot of the America I know a little better, the one that’s home to people who are black, Christian, urban, female, civilian, old, liberal, Jewish, transgender, straight, Buddhist, rural, military, gay, male, Native American, Muslim, conservative, white, atheistic, young, Asian, native- and foreign-born. I’ve seen them farming, dancing, building, worshiping, marching, laughing, crying, leaping, relaxing, serving and celebrating, among all of the other things we Americans do.

This is a tiny piece of who we are.

















_C1_6759.JPGStill, the truth is none of this is new. We’re the country that elected Barack Obama, and we’re the country that had several slaveholders among its founders. We’re the country that sings the praises of Martin Luther King Jr., and we’re the country that elected a successor to Obama who, despite his denunciation, is endorsed by the Ku Klux Klan and its ilk. We’re a country that holds up the immigrant or refugee seeking a new life as an idyllic symbol, and we’re the country that began by attacking the indigenous people and consistently treated each new wave of immigrants with suspicion or outright hatred.

All of this is who we are. We have countless things to do if we want to change it, but I think we can start with two: seeing and meeting and learning about each other a little more, and never saying or thinking that racism and other prejudices are “cured.” I know I’ll do what I can on those two things, at least.

These are just my thoughts, incomplete or flawed as they might be. Thanks for looking, and I wish you well.


_C1_4637Today has been a day of protest over a St. Louis grand jury’s decision not to indict white police officer Darren Wilson for shooting the unarmed, black teenager Michael Brown back in August. People nationwide and in other countries, including a diverse bunch here in Fayetteville, gathered to voice their disgust with what they called a justice system stacked against people of color. (You can see Ben Goff‘s official photo gallery for the paper here.)

There’s a ton of passion throughout these events, obviously — in Ferguson last night, rage over the decision turned into violence. The 80 or so people here in Fayetteville stayed peaceful, loudly chanting “Hands up, don’t shoot!” and other slogans and holding signs saying the lives of non-white people still matter.




_C1_4657Four people were arrested after they blocked traffic for a few minutes after noon, but Fayetteville police and everyone else involved were calm during the civil disobedience and handcuffing. It reminded me of the Occupy Lincoln protests I covered back in school. Here, at least, people trusted their police.


_C1_4690I won’t wade any further into the furious disagreement over what happened that August day; you can take a look at all of the evidence that exists here. But I do want to talk about one or two things in all of this.

White men who committed or are accused of terrible crimes — shooting dozens of people in a movie theater, shooting dozens of people at a political rally or allegedly killing a police officer — lived through their arrests. Brown is one of many unarmed black children and men in recent years who didn’t live through theirs.

A lot of people see these as coincidences, biased sets of examples or otherwise justifiable in some way. One fellow came out today with a little sign saying Darren Wilson is a hero.

A lot of other people, including the Fayetteville protesters, disagree. They instead see this situation as a pattern that won’t go away no matter how hard they try. That’s what the protesters were fighting, they said.

As for me, I want people to be and feel safe around cops. I want people happy and safe in their skins. I hope the people working to make these things happen, whoever they are, succeed. I can’t say much more and remain an observer.



_C1_4725I also hope you’re happy and safe. Thanks for looking.