I recently saw a cartoon that shows two eagles sipping coffee and reading the morning paper, legs crossed and sitting in armchairs. One says to the other, “Do you think the owl is a predator?” The other responds without looking up, “Of course not. He’s never bothered me.” After a pause, the first agrees, “Exactly. No idea what Mr. Mouse was going on about.”
Just because you don’t see it doesn’t mean it isn’t true. Just because you haven’t experienced it doesn’t mean it isn’t real. “It” is race-based prejudice, a very real thing in the United States.
Looking around our state, especially here in Bangor and to the north, it is easy to conclude that the effects of that prejudice are not a big part of our lives. Many of us can ignore it if we choose. My claim is that none of us should choose that option.
Current events have brought the deadly results of ingrained racial prejudice to the forefront. Most of us agree that the killing of George Floyd — and so many others — was unnecessary, unjust, and unacceptable. However, in the words of a wise man (my father): “We say it’s unacceptable, but if it were truly unacceptable, it wouldn’t happen.”
We need to make it clear that we do not accept this injustice. Whether you say it’s the fault of a few “bad apples” or systemic racism; whether you plan to vote for Trump, anyone but, or neither: You have a role here. This is not a fight for black people alone, or liberals alone, or young people alone.
This is when all of us say what kind of treatment we expect for ourselves and our neighbors. Call our senators, write to your mayor, visit your police chief, talk to your friends, wave to your enemies, but don’t ignore it and hope it will go away. That’s what got us here.
Empathy demands that this be all of our problem, and to be honest, practicality demands it too. The solution won’t come from just one historically silenced group pushing for it. Real resolution requires something from the rest of us. If we want to move beyond this state of events, we need to realize the power of our position as white Americans, and use it.
So what happens after we’ve gone through all the channels to call out, prevent and punish police brutality? Prejudice is not a problem specific to police. The roots of this problem, and the real cause of today’s protests, riots, frustration and outrage, are much deeper — and they do not go away with denial, ignorance or distraction. Changing the subject or waiting for the news to shift focus will not change the fact of real inequity that millions of American citizens experience.
Our goal cannot be to restore “peace” in the United States. We must address what is clearly so necessary and so critical for those around us.
My greatest fear is not the social unrest of protests and new legislation, but rather that order will be restored without any change. Order does not signify peace; ignoring persistent complaints is not resolution. Going back to “normal” is not a viable option. We need to do better than the way things were.
Karin Bothwell of Bangor works in the forest products industry.