For My Ferguson Cousins

I intentionally do not post about politics, religion  or other generally controversial topics online. In fact, I try to stick to amusing stories, funny pictures and optimistic statements. In part because I own a small business and don't want to offend any potential customer, but in a larger part because I've always tried to follow the advice of Saint Francis of Assisi, "Preach the Gospel at all times, and when necessary, use words." 

Now the "gospel" in that advice has changed over time to mean "values" for me. But even though my concept of what I want to "preach" has changed, the core message of living what you believe through your actions has remained a guiding principle. I sincerely hope I have made enough intentional choices to reflect to those who know me that I value tolerance and diversity. But today, that doesn't seem to be enough. It seems necessary to use words. 

In response to the decision to not indict, Stephanie Jordan, a friend I admire a great deal, posted on Facebook, "Thank you for the invitation to keep the conversation going. Let's DO this then." And she moderated a very thoughtful discussion amongst her friends. What struck me is that I had nothing to say to add to the conversation. Those who know me will be able to tell you that it is a RARE occasion when I have nothing to say.

And as I thought about it more, I realized I had no vocabulary at the ready to join the conversation. I have truths I hold dear.  I have values that guide my actions. I know how to act respectfully.  I know how to seek out opportunities to experience and learn from genuine diversity. I know how to support my friends. I know how to not belittle or bully someone for their beliefs, or for any part of who they are. What I don't know how to do is to easily continue a genuine discussion about race problems in our country. But it is time to learn. It has become necessary to use words.

It occurs to me that perhaps one reason public discourse has become so polarizing, so extreme, is because good intentioned, moderate people stay out of the discussions. We believe our actions speak for themselves. Since we do not feel racist, we don't feel the need to enter into discussions of race. We like to believe we can change the world through good example and right actions. And I'm not saying that we can't, but maybe sometimes that example has to include naming things. Maybe the right action is to make it clear through words, that we too see the problems. They are not just the rantings of the inflamed. They are also truths that the middle see.

And so here are some necessary words I'd like on my record: I believe that we have overt and covert racism in this country and in our systems. I believe that white privilege exists for all white people whether we feel it or not. I believe that our criminal justice system is broken. I believe that good people join law enforcement. But I also believe that law enforcement officers need better training and a systemic culture shift.

And in trying to find my vocabulary to continue the conversation, I remembered another value of mine: I know that we are one big global family. Since I value that, I've been volunteering with AJ Jacobs and his Global Family Reunion (GFR) project to help people celebrate our one big family. And I'm realizing now that working on the GFR can help me continue the race conversation through a lens I've already been holding up...

We are all connected. Literally. Through blood and/or marriage the Global Family Reunion Project is connecting up the world. There is only one human race. This is not a belief; it is a fact. Now we have to decide how to act like a family. We are all cousins. We may not like all of our cousins. But shouldn't we have some responsibility to our family none the less? The age of tribalism is over.  It no longer needs to be us versus them. It need only be us. But what does that mean? How does that conversation go? How do we hold up our cousins in Ferguson? I honestly don't know yet. But I'd like to thank my friend for the invitation to keep the conversation going. Let's DO this then...