The Color of Character

The President and I Have This in Common

Obama talking tough

On Saturday, April 23rd, President Obama called out Black Lives Matter by saying you “can’t just keep on yelling” about issues it wants to change. This was reported in the New York Daily News on April 24th in an article by Jason Silverstein. He went on to quote President Obama: “Once you’ve highlighted an issue and brought it to people’s attention and shined a spotlight, and elected officials or people who are in a position to start bringing about change are ready to sit down with you, then you can’t just keep on yelling at them.”

One of the points I’ve tried to make since The Color of Character was printed, is that a DIALOGUE is required. Monologues can get results if enforced by some sort of dictatorship, but it won’t accomplish anything to ameliorate race relations in America. Active listening is required to understand the “other’s” point of view. Let’s acknowledge that there are more than two points of view on the protean subject of racism. You can automatically exclude from a dialogue parties who will not acknowledge another viewpoint. Closed minds make factious results. So who are the people who should be talking?

Anyone who is willing to talk and listen at every opportunity.

I don’t think there is going to be one big national meeting. But there are groups of people, some better organized than others, working tirelessly, and mostly anonymously to bring communities together, or to improve the opportunities for those negatively affected by the results of our history of racism. That’s a great place to jump in. There is hope here.

If you listen to the shouters, you would think that there is a big institutional wall, clearly visible to all, that must be torn down somehow (no real solution is provided). They will have you believe that the average person is conniving every day to keep that wall from being breached. I contend that the average person on the street is too busy trying to navigate life’s obstacles to figure out how he or she can locate and tear down this monolithic structure. And few people will accept, rightly or wrongly, that they have much to do with keeping that wall in tact.

But Americans are famous for volunteering and causes. Alexis de Tocqueville, in the first half of the 19th century, noted in his writings as he traveled America. As quoted by Christine James Brown, “I must say that I have seen Americans make a great deal of real sacrifices to the public welfare; and have noticed a hundred instances in which they hardly ever failed to lend a faithful support to one another.” That’s who we are.

What worries me? Closed minds are no longer relegated to racists on the far right. Rather, they are clustering and multiplying in the least likely of places: our liberal colleges and universities. What should be the place where dialogue is encouraged, has become dangerous ground for anyone who does not share the exact point of view of a very vocal segment with a very specific narrative on any topic. They are shutting down dialogue by shouting down, intimidating, uninviting, discouraging, and in some cases physically threatening anyone who dares present an alternative side to a subject. Even correcting felonious accusations is forbidden if it puts a dent in the preferred narrative. The result: only one point of view – sadly on occasion, misinformed or lacking historical perspective – is heard.

What is the short term effect? As President Obama said, a lot of shouting and demands being made that offer no real solutions. Misinformation (in some cases lies), are shouted enough, and become “fact” to the uninformed. This can prove dangerous to those maligned by the lies. History has proven this time and again.

And what happens to those who surely disagree, but are cowed into silence to get by? I believe they become more entrenched in their beliefs. And this is what builds that wall that the shouters wish to take down. The long term effect of this tyranny of the mind? Nothing changes – at least not for the better. Ironic isn’t it?

Leave a Comment