The COVID-19 continues to demand that we change, and it can be unnerving at times. Can be? Strike that. It is definitely unnerving.
Are you familiar with the trending definition of disruptive? Something that’s disruptive forces an issue and demands change. It makes people shift their thinking to either reconsider the present reality or wake up to something new. No question, the COVID has become a disruptive force.
One of the uncomfortable ways the COVID is disrupting is by keeping us off balance. There’s beauty in that though because it’s making many people more sensitive to others.
Sensitivity to others? That’s a silver lining that can result in significant change, and it’s brought longstanding injustices front and center.
As an optimist who since childhood has cringed at injustice and tried to do my part to rectify it, I’m discovering that I wasn’t as 100% aware as I’d thought. I know I’m not alone and personally speaking, I’m hopeful the disruption has only just begun.
We are all – everyone, of any color – being given the opportunity to see that many of our beliefs are incomplete or just plain wrong, and as difficult as this can feel it can do us good on a very grand scale. Why? It can help heal our nation’s divisiveness, the “us against them” mentality that’s permeating our society, most evident in today’s politics.
As a nation, we’ve grown increasingly incapable of considering any side other than our own, and that has resulted in a lack of civil discourse and a righteous divisiveness. There’s a distinct rigidity, an inability to consider that “my” way might not always be the “right” way. Rigidity makes people unable to consider anyone other than themselves.
How can COVID possibly change that? It’s already started:
The Unnerving Disruption
We are no longer sure what the “new normal” might look like or even what it could conceivably be, and this can be unnerving and disrupting because at least some of our security has been built on our “normal”.
Again, what’s the silver lining here?
As securities begin to fray, we can start to see life a little differently. We can begin to consider others in a new light and take the time to consider how our actions – or lack of them – might be affecting other people. We can look at how things are and ask, “Why?”
We can think about some of our nation’s glaring, festering problems that we hadn’t quite brought into focus before, and if we’re smart we’ll begin to see how those problems affect us all, not just those who are so obviously impacted.
Equality and Justice … for All?
Do we choose whose lives matter? We do, by our actions or inaction.
Can we stand together against injustice to confirm that people who have been denied equality for centuries, who still struggle under inequality and institutional racism, matter? We’d better do that if we have any hope of healing the divisiveness and injustice so prevalent today.
There are glimmers of hope that we’re beginning to get the picture:
Let’s face it: African Americans have been stigmatized and oppressed in the U.S. since slavery. We can’t just wish that away.
How Can We Seize the Moment?
While many of us have suffered from our country’s injustice, others have simply been aware of it and known it was very, very wrong. Truth be told, it takes a groundswell of many to effect any significant national change.
It took the stark visibility of that injustice (and our heightened sensitivity as a nation, thanks to COVID) to magnify the racial injustice through the Black Lives Matter movement and provide a platform to bring us together.
Diverse people are beginning to find a voice. Former mayor of Minneapolis Betsy Hodges wrote a compelling and beautifully honest NY Times Opinion Piece about the White privilege that’s resulted in policies that maintain a status quo of inequity and result in police brutality.
A sustainable transformation of policing will require that white people of means disinvest in the comfort of our status quo.
It will require support of policy changes that cities led by white liberals are currently using the blunt instrument of policing to address. It will mean organizing for structural changes that wealthy and middle-class whites have long feared — like creating school systems that truly give all children a chance, providing health care for everyone that isn’t tied to employment, reconfiguring police unions and instituting public safety protocols that don’t simply prioritize protecting white property and lives.
Mayor Hodges’ post makes it evident that that our country needs fairer representation of all races in the policy-making sphere. It is also a wake-up call to White liberals, exposing hypocrisy that no one wants to see in themselves.
I think it’s fair to say that we all – no matter what color our skin – can grow with this.
Why Educational Equality Could Help Mitigate Racism
What can we do to make change real and lasting? Education is one obvious place we can begin to address the glaring and entrenched injustice against people of color. But let’s back up a bit first.
I don’t think it’s farfetched to take our conversation on education all the way back to slavery. It’s not a comfortable conversation to have, but slavery left our nation with festering wounds that won’t begin to heal until we address it to the very best of our ability.
This lithograph from History.com sums up the essence of slavery. Like I said, it’s a difficult conversation.
I won’t dwell on this, as I think we all need to consider slavery in our own, personal way. But when you consider the life experience of thousands of human beings forced into slavery for generations -- and their lives on through to Jim Crow and into today’s racism – you can see that we as a nation need to do something significant.
Have some strides been made? Of course. But are they enough? What do you think? If you agree that they are not, consider that education is an excellent place to start.
Are you Aware of the Inequalities of our Public Educational System?
Simply put, due to unequal funding the public schools with a high percentage of students of color typically have inferior facilities, equipment, and books.
This is obviously a complicated question with many dynamics, but let’s simplify this by saying that People of Color rarely receive the same educational opportunities as Caucasians.
If you believe in equal opportunity for all, this would be an excellent place to begin to implement change.
How Complicated Do We Need to Make This?
We’ve grappled with educational inequality as a nation for a very long time and have tried some controversial approaches. Busing was a largely failed experiment which resulted in marginal success with many students of color dropping out of school. Simply put, being bused across town for an hour (each way) proved not to be a fair or even practical solution.
The Essential Question of Fairness
One of the most admirable and beautiful qualities that many Americans share is a pervasive desire for fairness. We try for this with our laws, our courts, our political system, and our accepted rules of conduct. The extreme divisiveness of today is disagreeable to many of us, so perhaps it’s time to consider our issues from a common ground – in this case, the common ground of fairness.
Why? Because if you raise the question of fairness you do away with a lot of the dynamics involved in a complicated issue. You take it down to nubs and try to do what’s truly best for everyone.
Recently, my friend E. Darlene Rogers (Executive Director of the nonprofit STEM Educational Fund) offered a simple solution that doesn’t include busing or any other experiments that might put children at risk. She suggested distributing tax dollars equally between schools.
An Almost Revolutionary Solution
That’s such a simple solution that it sounds almost revolutionary, but I think America may have come far enough as a country to accept it on the common ground of fairness.
Darlene’s thinking was informed by her childhood experience during the busing era:
“I understand that the premise for busing was to ensure that kids were getting equal education and having the same opportunities,” she said, “but I attended a school where kids were being bused in from lower income, disadvantaged areas and that wasn’t fair to them.”
Fairness. Wait a minute. Busing isn’t fair to students? That’s so obvious and yet very rarely acknowledged. Can you imagine having to ride a bus across town to go to school in a radically different neighborhood than yours?
She went on to explain:
“Busing impacted their daily lives. They spent two hours on buses going to and from school, which meant they had less time to relax or play after homework. They were also no longer getting their schooling in their neighborhood and familiar surroundings. They were pretty much picked up and dropped into another environment.
On the other hand, I lived 15 minutes to home, so I had time to go home, do homework, and go outside to play. I didn’t commute for two hours a day to get an education.”
Darlene went on to say that public transportation costs the same across all neighborhoods, as do utilities and other public commodities. Public money is, she pointed out, public money. She also reminded me that tax rates don’t change according to your zip code. Why shouldn’t all schools receive the same funding and support?
Darlene had obviously done a lot of thinking about this, and her reasonable, fair solution got me thinking too. Couldn’t this simple solution make it possible for children everywhere, regardless of their challenges and circumstances, to receive a good education?
Fair’s fair, as we Americans like to say. Fair is simple. Fair is true. We’re not talking about an individual’s tax dollars anymore; we’re talking about kids who aren’t being treated fairly and we’re talking about public money. Public money belongs to all of us.
Many of those who have “hoarded privilege” will continue to resist change, so we all need to step up to this if it’s to happen. People of all races and backgrounds coming together can expose the truth, just as Gandhi and Dr. King’s movements did.
We can loudly assert that privilege – always taken at the expense of others – is not a God-given right and it is not fair. It’s time for America to live up to its motto “Freedom and Justice for All”, so let’s get to work.
We can assert that Black Lives Matter by invoking the truism that Fair is Fair. Then we can begin to move America towards a more equitable and sustainable way of life for everyone.