More perfect union? It starts with us.
A key claim of the “Black Lives Matter” movement to end systemic racial violence is the need for restructuring long-term public safety policies that have led to repeated cases of excessive and too-often fatal use of force by police. But while necessary, restructuring public safety only addresses a flashpoint resulting from the broader legacy of American slavery and racial injustice.
This legacy includes functional racial segregation in both the South and North, including here in southeastern Connecticut. This includes federally “red-lined” home-loan maps that prevent minority home ownership; and the resulting unequal educational funding that condemns minority zip codes to lower quality schools.
The “Black Lives Matter” movement fairly demands an end to chokeholds, knees on necks, and extra-judicial killings -- seen by many as modern-day lynching. They fairly demand a revision of qualified immunity that shields police from being held personally liable for constitutional violations, such as the right to be free from excessive police force.
The primary goal of the BLM movement is not to eliminate civil authority but to return policing to its fundamental responsibility of protecting all citizens. This will require reimagining current policing structures to emphasize community policing. It will require some form of civilian oversight of public safety policies and policing operations. And it will require that the composition of police forces accurately mirror the demographic composition of the communities they serve.
But the elimination of racism will not be accomplished by legislative changes alone. Nor will our constitutional obligation to working towards a “more perfect union” be accomplished solely by modifying administrative policies. Hence, the BLM movement’s underlying goal is the elimination of societal unconscious racial bias.
True and lasting change to create the country whose ideals we all praise will only come when we critically examine ourselves for unconscious racial bias. Though not an overtly spiritual process, it requires that we seek out unconscious racial bias where it exists. More importantly, this private inventory-of-our-hearts must guide a transformation in our individual lives and collective action to cultivate a kinder, just society.
If the term unconscious racial bias confuses you or if you want to measure whether or not you may have such unconscious bias, here are a few questions to ask yourself:
1. Can you name a single Black, Hispanic, Asian or Native American journalist whose work you regularly read, hear or view?
2. Can you name three Black, Hispanic, Asian or Native American authors, poets or film producers whose works have affected you?
3. Can you name several aspects of Black, Hispanic, Asian or Native American culture that you’ve learned; that you use in your job; or/and that have made you a better person?
4. Have you ever heard a racist remark (or negative comment about an ethnicity or religion) that you challenged or corrected in the moment?
After asking yourself these simple but extraordinarily important questions, consider (in the privacy of your mind and heart) how you can better become the person your faith (whatever it is) says you can become. Then, act on these acquired insights in your daily life.
America will not heal through acrimonious competing rallies. We shall only achieve more perfect union through the aggregate of our individual acts as citizens. Your acts and your voices will ultimately determine if we are truly to become a nation with “liberty and justice for all.”
In 1965, Matthew Shulman, as a 19-year-old VISTA volunteer, investigated civil rights complaints for the Omaha Human Relations Board. During the Civil Rights era he worked on social organizing efforts under the leadership of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and Rev. Ralph Abernathy in the Midwest. More recently, he served as a chaplain at Lawrence & Memorial Hospital in New London. Retired, he lives in Groton.