Being faithful readers, you no doubt remember how my last entry concluded. And I’m sure you all paced floors and bit fingernails to the quick, waiting for news of my wellbeing. First, you should not bite your fingernails. Nasty habit. One in which I never indulge. Instead, when I get anxious, I bite other people’s nails. This way I release nervous energy and still maintain a well-groomed appearance. Second, I was unable to submit my column last week because CIA blackout locations have terrible Wi-Fi. And I mean terrible. I tried several times to send an email to my editor, only to have the transmission stall halfway through. So you see, none of this is my fault. It never is. Remember that.
I return to my duties in a busy news week. And one which does not lend itself to humor. I don’t have to recap everything for you. You’ve read it, seen it, heard it. You’ve discussed it in grocery store checkout lanes and exchanged heated remarks on social media. You might have even lost some sleep over the state of our country and the ongoing, senseless loss of life that is now a regular thing. I’ll be honest: it has come to the point that when a news story about a shooting comes on, my first thought is, I wonder how long this one will dominate the headlines. It’s a pathetic thing. Have shootings and related heartbreak become so commonplace as to be more annoying than tragic?
CNN reported on a statement from Newt Gingrich, former Speaker of the House and a potential vice-presidential pick. Politics aside, he said something I believe to be generally true: “If you are a normal white American,” he said, “the truth is you don’t understand being black in America and you instinctively underestimate the level of discrimination and the level of additional risk.”
Now, there are a great number of white Americans who can’t even relate to this. Discrimination based on race is something so foreign to them that they easily dismiss it. They are not racist themselves, and it seems so ridiculous they can’t imagine it actually takes place. But it does. I know this, because I have observed it. My extended family is from the South. Not just south of someplace, but the Deep South. Unfortunately, it isn’t all “bless your heart” and delicious fried foods. Growing up, I heard many ugly things, statements and philosophies, that I can’t even bring myself to include here. Sickening things. Disturbing ideas. Racism does still exist and is a problem.
On the other side, not all cops are evil people with itchy trigger fingers. It is my personal belief that positions of authority tend to attract those who shouldn’t have that same authority. Moths to a flame. But there are many in those positions who do the work because they desire to make a positive difference in their communities. There are countless stories of heroism and self-sacrifice that testify to this statement.
I’m not here to assign blame. There is plenty to go around. It doesn’t all belong to one side or the other. And I don’t have the answer to the problem. In fact, people with all the answers have become part of the problem. But what about compassion? Compassion for the cop, white or black, doing her job in an increasingly dangerous environment. Compassion for the minority who has to watch every word he says to an authority figure so as not to appear “threatening.” Is having a certain skin color a crime? Is wearing a uniform?
This is not intended as a rant. We’ve had plenty of those. Rants that call for more violence on one side or the other, as if that is the answer. That makes as much sense as saying, “My house is on fire! Bring the gasoline!” If you are one of those people writing vicious Facebook posts or tweets about how one side or the other should all be shot in the streets, I say: “Fuck you, go to hell, you’re part of the problem.” (Okay, that was kinda ranty.)
This musing is the product of a desire to reach a place where Americans greet one another with a handshake (or a jaunty salute!), not a fist. I don’t believe in utopia, but we can set our own individual course by refusing to buy in to the fearmongering of the media and certain groups who have a vested interest in the status quo. The system is broken; that much is clear. But we don’t have to let that system define us as individuals. We have choices. Let’s exercise that ability and maybe—maybe—we will see change.
Craig A. Hart writes shit. Sometimes it’s less shitty. Sometimes he thinks it might be good shit. He is the stay-at-home father of twin boys, has served as editor-in-chief for The Rusty Nail literary magazine and as manager for Sweatshoppe Media. He is the host of the Raw Writing Podcast. He lives in Iowa City with his wife, sons, and two cats. You can visit his personal website at: craigahart.com.