What are they fighting for?

A few things you should know about me:

I am a white man living in America.

Whether I know it or not, whether I fully comprehend it or not, I am a recipient of white privilege. I was raised in a very middle-class suburban largely Caucasian neighborhood. And while my family was far from wealthy, we didn’t struggle either.

               And as a white man living in America, I’ve probably received the “benefit of the doubt” far more often than I realize. I’ve never been pulled over by a police officer because I fit a suspect’s description. I’ve never been pulled over by a police officer because I was in the wrong part of town at the wrong time of day. And other than wealthy people, I’ve never had anyone look at me and tell me simply because of who I was or how I was born, that I was less than them.

By all expectations, I should be politically conservative. I should be proud to be an American. I should place my hand over my heart and sing the “Star Spangled Banner” with due diligence and reverence. I should like country music. And anyone who doesn’t put their hand over their heart and sing the “Star Spangled Banner”, I should deem unpatriotic and disloyal to this country.

My problem is, I’ve never really been good at fitting into certain molds.

As a white male school teacher in inner city Detroit, I am the minority in my professional community. I have never voted for any other political candidate than a Democrat. And I do love my country.  The only thing I believe to be greater than this country and the constitution upon which it was built, are the individual rights of our citizens that are protected under that same constitution.

Our Pledge of Allegiance uses the phrase “with Liberty and justice for all”. I am one of those people who sided with Colin Kaepernick when he chose to take a knee during the Star-Spangled Banner performances at NFL football games. Family members and friends thought I was disloyal, disrespectful, and didn’t appreciate the sacrifices made by the brave men and women who have served this country.

What people tell me, And I do know that this much is true, that the men and women serving in our armed forces and our law enforcement officers, are out there every day defending our freedoms and protecting us. For that I am eternally, truly grateful. An attempt to suggest otherwise is simply untrue.

My father was one of those people. He served as a police officer for 25 years. I know that every single day he worked as a police officer, every routine traffic stop he made – anytime he interacted with the public – he was potentially putting his life on the line for the people of his city, his community, and for my family. I didn’t always understand that as a young boy, but as I got older I came to truly appreciate it.  Before my father was a police officer, he served in the United States army. If one doesn’t understand that being a serviceman potentially means putting your life on the line for this country, then they simply don’t understand the profession.

My father and I never agreed on politics as I became a young adult. In fact, there were times where we would disagree and even argue in some instances about certain presidents, certain international policies, and certain armed conflicts. But I also happen to know then my father believed in his work. The ideas of law and order and justice. As I think that most police officers actually do. But, like any profession, any walk of life, there are dirty cops; just as there are dirty teachers, dirty doctors, dirty lawyers and dirty accountants.

America is not a perfect country. Even the founding fathers knew that. Otherwise, they would not include the phrase “in order to form a more perfect union” in the Preamble of The Constitution. To suggest that America does not have a race problem is naïve at best and not in tune with reality at worst. America has had a race problem going back to the earliest settlement of this land

We, as Americans, like to think that we talk about race. We like to say things like “we need to have an open forum discussion about racial matters in this country”.  On the contrary, we like to talk a lot about talking about race; We just don’t really like to actually say a whole lot about racial matters in this country. And we almost never do anything to address racial issues.

Right now, it is simply impossible to ignore the inequalities that Americans of color have endured for decades, even for centuries. There are certain imperfections in this country that can no longer be ignored. Certain inequalities that people have been fighting to change that must be addressed.

George Floyd was neither the first nor the last black person to be killed in this country under highly suspect circumstances by a police officer. He is neither the most innocent, nor the guiltiest criminal threat. Sadly, there will be others after him. To be honest, I don’t even consider his death to be the most egregious act of police brutality or systemic racism ever perpetrated in this country. However it is appearing camera with every passing day, that Floyd’s may be a flashpoint moment in our society.

As a teacher of young black men and women, I am preparing them to enter the “real world”.   I encourage them seize on the opportunities that are available to them. But I also realize the streets of our country simply aren’t as safe for them as they are for me. They grow up in a community that presents far more dangers to them than my hometown presented to me as a young man. And I know the stark reality that – no matter how hard they try – some of my students are socio-economically predisposed to a life of crime, drugs, and death – either ad a victim or as a perpetrator. For some of my students, the challenges they face will be too difficult to overcome.  Many of my students are two or three years academically behind other students at their grade level. That is the uphill battle that I face every single day as a teacher in an urban school district.

But I have to believe in America. I have to believe and the notions of liberty, justice and opportunity. I believe that we have the potential within us as a society to be the greatest civilization in the history of the human race. But we’re not there yet. We have issues we must address here at home; skeletons in our own closet.   America must look in the mirror and recognize its faults, it’s warts, and address them.

I have to think that if my father and countless others before him  – and those who will come after – him are fighting to protect my rights, that they must have also been fighting to protect the rights of my students, my coworkers, people I’ve never met, all Americans. If we have such glaring problems here in America, if we as a nation cannot guarantee the rights and freedoms of all of our citizens, then what are they fighting for?   What are they dying for?

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