We are Americans. Ours is a multicultural society. And, we are a proud bunch. It takes focus to be multicultural and American, a kind of cognitive dissonance. Because for a multicultural society to truly prosper, citizens must be consciously willing to accept each other’s diversities, and practice fair and equitable treatment of one another, even when your neighbor’s opinions and actions differ from your own, knowing that though groups may disagree, it doesn’t mean one side is righter than the other, or better than the other, just different.
Multiculturalism includes gathering together under the broad umbrella that is the United States of America, the mother country, the country to whom we have all pledged allegiance, which includes learning its dominant language, and living by its rule of law.
This is the beautiful plurality of multiculturalism. This is what we are. Perhaps difficult for some to hear, but multicultural is a word that could be said to be synonymous to being American. We have become a global example of what it means to be multicultural: free and individual, yet a collective whole. This is why many of our forefathers came here, and why so many today want to come and stand beneath our red, white and blue umbrella.
A Wave of Violence
There is a lot going on in our country right now. Upper most in our minds is the still fresh wave of mass violence that seems to be sweeping our cities (and the world) in tsunami-like tides, at a time when many of us hoped we were evolving beyond it. These tragic events have put all other social and political concerns on a back burner as we struggle to find reason for these hate crimes taking down human life.
Dallas. Orlando. San Bernardino. Chattanooga. Fort Hood. Baltimore. Aurora. Binghamton. Oak Creek. Charleston. The Navy Yard. Santa Barbara. Newtown. Baton Rouge.
The cities ring like death tolls. Americans, killing Americans. The senselessness of it incomprehensible.
2014 Statistics from the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) report that a total of 33,636 Americans lost their lives to guns in the past two years; The CDC’s totals from 2001 to 2013 tally an astounding 406,496 people having died by firearms in the United States, including homicides, accidents and suicide. The Council on Foreign relations (CFR) reports that though the United States, has less than 5 percent of the world's population, it has between 35 and 50 percent of the world’s civilian owned guns, 40% of those firearms are purchased through the internet, without background checks. As a country, we rank number one in firearms per capita. According to a February 2016 article published by the American Medical Journal, the United States has the highest homicide-by-firearm rate, 25 times higher, than any other developed nation. And, surprisingly, though we fear terrorist attacks, according to the U.S. State Department only 3,264 people were killed in domestic terrorism acts in the U.S. between 2001 and 2015. Of these deaths, 2,902 were the result of the September 11, 2001 attacks.
The United States of America is the only advanced country on Earth that sees these kinds of mass violence with this kind of frequency. It cannot be denied that what is occurring is a grave internal issue.
As mass communication make us witnesses to the injustices and senseless acts happening around us, it is hard not to feel the bite of rage that comes with the ghosts of hopelessness that hint of no solution. It is hard to remember the words of some of our great spiritual and political leaders who cautioned against returning violence with violence, hatred with more hate.
Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., in his book Strength to Love, published, 1963, wrote, “Returning hate for hate multiplies hate, adding deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars. Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate, only love can do that.” Dr. King believed that at the root of social justice was the light of personal transformation, that by reaching within and becoming conscious to love we could change, evolve ourselves and, hence, the world.
It is clear, that in order to insure freedom, now, more than ever, we need to work together to eradicate violence and discord from our lives.
Additionally, we must be vigilant of the voices offering conflict instead of resolution, hatred instead of good will, voices breeding further fear and separatism in our society, trying to pit us against each other, whether those voices originate from the media, politicians, or our neighbors.
More than a century ago, in a speech before the Illinois Assembly, Abraham Lincoln declared, “A house divided against itself cannot stand.” This statement applies today: we are becoming a country at war with itself, a people at war with each other. All of us have been raised to be racists and bigots, and even in the most unpremeditated of cases, we fall into the social trap of stereotyping each other. If we are to truly be multicultural, then we must embrace our diversity, learn from it, believe we can be better because of it, and evolve with it. No one should be dying because of who they are, what they look like, how they choose to worship, whom they choose to love, or what they choose to do for a living. This should not even have to be said.
Furthermore, our evolution necessitates a new definition about what it means to be a human being, a definition, devoid of gender, ethnic differences, and the realization that the separation of races is an illusion that we have created. We are all one race: the human race. And, we are all, American, each equal one to the another.
Renown spiritual leader, philosopher, 2016 Templeton Prize winner and former Chief Rabbi of the Commonwealth, Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks, says he believes civilization is at a turning point, the message of love needing to be more insistent than the message of hate if we are to eradicate extremism. Believing the Internet and social media platforms, excellent venues for spreading love instead of hate, he says, “We have yet to turn instant communication into a spiritual blessing—the best uses of the web right now are by people of anger and hate.” In advance of a public lecture on how to respond to terrorism at St. Andrews University this May, 2016, Rabbi Sacks said this: “the most important spiritual message of the 21st century is to be free: you have to let go of hate. There is no other way. That is what we as a global community should be urging in the education of all the world’s children: not to hate those with whom we must one day learn to live.” Appreciation, respect, recognizing the value of each other, Rabbi Sacks says, is the most effective path to overcoming the global rise of violence and terrorism.
So easily can Rabbi Sacks’ message be applied here, at home, to our communities and ourselves. If we are to thrive as a multicultural nation, we must come together as a people united, our common goals freedom and peaceful co-existence.
The call for peace is not, however, divorced from the call for social justice and legal reform. As we take stock of our personal evolution we must also evolve our system and our public servants, so that the act of personal evolution is partnered with the act of civil evolution.
We must enact gun control reform as outlined by President Obama’s January 4, 2016 Executive Actions to Reduce Gun Violence and Make Our Communities Safer directive so that we can diminish incidents of mass homicide.
Of utmost importance also is the immediate implementation of police reform. According to the web site The Counted, a project by The Guardian to provide an ongoing public tracking of all people killed by police in the U.S., a total of 1,146 people were killed by law enforcement in 2015. There have been 591 deaths so far this year. Statistical findings conducted by the Washington Post culminating a year-long 2015 study on police killings of civilians, found that the majority of people who died as a result of police violence fit into one of three categories: those wielding weapons, those suicidal or mentally unstable, or those that ran when officers told them to halt. Though the incidence of white police officers killing unarmed black men represented less than 4 percent of fatal police shootings, it is interesting to note that black men make up only 6 percent of the U.S. population, yet accounted for 40 percent of the unarmed men shot to death by police last year, especially in the 18 to 34 age demographic. In most cases in which police shot and killed a person who had attacked someone with a weapon, or brandished a gun, the person who was shot was actually white, but 3 in 5 of those, a hugely disproportionate number killed after exhibiting less threatening behavior, were black or Hispanic.
We must educate our police force differently, training them to be peacekeeping officers and trusted community leaders we can rely on, instead of armed soldiers we all, on some level, fear. Our law enforcement personnel must be tested for racial bias, anger management, and anxiety disorders, before they become active in our communities—and, if they fail these tests, they must not be allowed on our streets, among our husbands and wives, partners, and children. This is not to punish those who would serve, it is in an effort to do all we can as a society to lessen incidences of unnecessary violence, and promote well-being for every citizens. We must adopt community forums made up of law enforcement officials and civilians, where both sides can work together, reviewing and implementing corrective measures when needed.
Finally, we need to demilitarize our police forces. There is no logical reason why our country’s military surpluses should be re-routed to our cities law enforcement divisions, as is the U.S. Army’s routine policy. We have already mentioned the low statistics regarding domestic incidences of terrorism. There is no domestic application whatsoever for armored tanks, grenade launchers and .50 caliber machine guns in suburban settings. This war equipment was designed for use on the battlefield, not our residential streets. It lends itself to a mindset of military action and control in the psyches of police officers already trained to view all civilians as possible threats. It also acts to color how communities see law enforcement. There should be an exchange of community involvement, cooperation and service between members of police and the citizenry, not military law. And, yes, if we demilitarize our police, then we take strides to demilitarize our civilian citizenry of similar weapons. Perhaps if the fear of government tyranny were alleviated, The National Rifle Association (NRA), National Shooting Sports Foundation and smaller extremist gun lobbyists like The Gun Owners of America, who believe the Second Amendment gives citizens constitutional right to take up arms against an unreasonably cruel and oppressive government, might be more willing to compromise.
Maybe. Probably not. But, maybe.
“We know we can’t stop every act of violence or evil in the world,” President Obama said at a recent press conference addressing his multi-point gun control proposal, “but maybe we can try and stop one act of evil, one act of violence.”
If we work together, we can strive to create a future that is decidedly different for our children. In Dr. King’s words, we need to feel the “fierce urgency of now,” by concentrating on our present, striving to recognize ourselves in our fellow Americans, and with compassion, tolerance, and “vigorous positive action,” work together as a united nation of people, welcoming our differences not with rancor, but with hope.
Each one of us can be a part of change, every day, every moment, every hour. We can be the ones to lead by example. Post something positive on your social media pages; keep a small bag of food in your car to hand to that homeless man you see every day at the same traffic light on your way to work; catch a stranger’s eye, especially one who doesn’t look like you, and smile unexpectedly; buy the police officer in line behind you at Starbucks a surprise cup of coffee; let the insistent driver who forgets to signal get in front of you in traffic without honking obnoxiously and cussing him out, understanding, that if the stranger doesn’t smile back, if the homeless man doesn’t say thank you, and if the driver takes for granted your kindness as his right, it isn’t you that has failed, it is you that is being the harbinger of change. If we are to live on this diverse, multicultural planet it is about being your brother’s keeper as well as your own. The keeper of their strengths as well as weaknesses; it is about loving your neighbor, even if they don’t yet understand why you keep smiling and waving to them every morning when they can’t smile because they are going off to a job they hate.
“There is only one non-utopian way of creating the good without the harm, and that is to create programmes of what in Hebrew is called chessed, in Latin caritas, or in English, loving kindness, across boundaries,” writes Rabbi Sacks in his 2007 book The Home We Build Together. “We must love strangers as well as neighbours, in the simple sense of love-as-deed, practical help. That imperative flows from the covenant of human solidarity, and in a national context, from the covenant of citizenship.”
Dr. King called it “the moral ethic of love.”
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M.G. POE grew up in Miami, but now lives in Los Angeles. She once earned her living as a hackney for the radio industry, and can still crank out copy on demand in under forty minutes.