HAPPY NEW YEAR!
2014 was a rough year for many. Hopefully, 2015 will be better. There seemed to have been a lot of tragedy and negativity in the air. For example, in 2014 we learned about Boko Haram kidnapping 270 young girls from a boarding school in Nigeria, we experienced “third world problems” with our first Ebola scare, we said goodbye to exceptionally talented artists such as, Robin Williams and Phillip Seymour Hoffman. Sadly we also lost the wonderful Trinidadian-American actor, choreographer, director, dancer, painter, Geoffrey Holder and Maya Angelou, the great author, poet, dancer, and activist. We watched the drug wars in Mexico continue to unfold and we learned of the possible involvement of Iguala Mexico Mayor Jose Luis Abarca, and his wife, Maria de los Angeles Pineda in the disappearance of 43 students in Mexico. Not to mention, after the deaths of Michael Brown, Eric Garner, Tamir Rice, John Crawford and the execution-style murder of the two NYPD officers Wenjian Liu, and Rafael Ramos in Brooklyn, we were forced as a nation to examine race relations and inequities within the criminal justice system more carefully.
In 2014, we also saw technology being used in new ways. People began to use cell phone videos to expose racial mistreatment drawing parallels to the way in which the news media in the 1960s were able to expose the racial injustices of the Deep South. Internet videos helped to provide concrete examples of excessive force being used by police officers in their dealings with people of color. Recent media coverage of events in Ferguson Missouri, Ohio, and New York have forced many to take a closer look at race relations in the United States. Incidents that once were ignored or dismissed, now because of Internet video, are out in the open for all to see. Media coverage has helped to generate new dialogue regarding America’s racial climate and much-needed discussions about things such as police brutality, entitlement, and white privilege have begun.
Despite the many negative stories we heard in 2014, there were some inspirational ones as well. We made strides in gay marriage, after 50 years the US restored diplomatic ties with Cuba, we saw gas prices finally fall below $2.00 a gallon, we began an open dialogue, about issues of race, the objectification of women, and sexual discrimination. These are just a few examples but with some work we can continue to see positive change in 2015. Here are five things that I believe, if we all made a collective effort, could help to make 2015 an exceptional year:
1. If we agreed to an honest attempt at mutual understanding among the races.
In 2014, I witnessed what I believe to be a general lack of understanding, insensitivity, defensiveness, and dismissiveness on the part of some when discussing issues of race. In 2015, I hope that we can recognize and acknowledge each other’s experiences in a more respectful manner. Sometimes simply validation can be what is needed to move the discussion forward.
I plan on working to generate positive discussion through my daily interactions with people both in person and through social media by trying to empathize more with others.
Suggestions on how to build mutual understanding: To do my part, I am going to continue the discussion in my blog and on social media this coming year. I am also going to seek out community events that work towards bridging the racial divide. I attended some events sponsored by Arizona State University through their Project Humanities outreach program last year. If you have similar organizations in your area, I would recommend that you find ways to participate.
2. If we showed compassion towards the poor.
I hope that the simplistic idea that rich people are rich because they work harder and that poor people are poor because they lack work ethic, goes out the window in 2015. The truth is that many poor people work extremely hard but unfortunately they don’t make enough money to subsist. On the contrary, many wealthy individuals are where they are not because of hard work, but because of the families they were born into, the preformed networking connections available to them upon birth, and the high quality education and schooling that they received. There are of course cases where individuals have moved from poverty to wealth, but those occurrences are quite uncommon. The wealthy account for 1% of our nation’s population so if the work hard get rich myth were true, then those numbers would be a lot higher.
Suggestions on how to combat poverty: Please join me in making the commitment to become involved in at least one program this year to help combat poverty. Last year my family participated in a United Way event aimed at ending world hunger we filled backpacks with food to help feed children in our state. There are many volunteer organizations across the country that need help in providing services to the poor. I also stumbled across some other ideas on the billmoyers.com on ways we can combat poverty, check it out this article by Greg Kaufmann on twelve things you can do to fight poverty now:
I particularly like the suggestion of mailing your state representatives about increasing the minimum wage.
3. If we make a commitment to examine the inequities within the criminal justice system closely and we generated a plan for improvement.
I hope that we learn from the injustices that we witnessed in 2014 and that the powers that be, begin to delve into the ongoing corruptness within the criminal justice system, specifically in relation to the way in which people of color are perceived and handled. There are public officials that want to do their jobs honorably, but it is difficult to work within a broken system. Social Psychologist and 2014 MacArthur Fellow Jennifer L. Eberhardt is working with law enforcement on examining racial bias within the criminal justice system.
For more information on her work check out this video below (video by MacArthur Foundation licensed under Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License):
I hope to see more law enforcement agencies in 2015 engaging in these types of studies/programs and making efforts across the country to modify how they interact with the public.
4. If the news media and social media would halt the promotion of racial stereotypes and prejudice.
I believe that the news media has helped to contribute to the climate of separateness within our country with their coverage of everyday news events. The media regularly depicts blacks and people of color involved criminal activity but seldom shows individuals doing the right thing. When reporting crimes involving young black men the media often uses terms like “thug” or “gang banger” to describe assailants but when reporting similar crimes involving white men, they uses words like “troubled” or “misguided.” The expectation in the media being that if you are black and commit a crime, that behavior is inherent and that because of your race you are beyond redemption. These racial biases within the news media have also spilled over into social media and can be seen in the kinds of racially biased commentary people engage in across the Internet. I hope in 2015 people become more aware of racial bias in the media and that they begin to refrain from perpetuating these kinds of damaging stereotypes.
Suggestion on how to combat the promotion of racial stereotypes:
My only suggestion would be to encourage people think more critically about the information being received. Often many of us sit by without protesting racial stereotypes. I am already pretty vocal about this issue, but I plan on continuing to showcase instances of racial bias in the media through my writing and my social interactions. If you have any additional suggestions about how we might put a stop to racial bias in the media or any of the other issues mentioned in this article, please leave them in the comments section below.
5. Acceptance of human sexual diversity.
We are making strides in this area, and I hope that change continues to happen. I hope we all work to gain a better understanding of issues facing LGBT people and that we work to create a climate of acceptance and understanding. I hope that in 2015 same-sex marriage is no longer an issue and that people realize that not everyone is heterosexual, sexual diversity is okay, and that love comes in many forms.
Suggestion for promoting acceptance of human sexual diversity: I think that the one of the big things that we all can do is to write our state representatives and ask them to actively support the LGBT community and if gay marriage is not legal in your state then vote in favor of marriage equality. Also, we can fund organizations that promote LGBT rights. The Fordfoundation.org has some ideas on how to help the cause.
These are just a few of my hopes and dreams for 2015. I know that some might consider them rather lofty, but I have to believe that if we collectively agree to make a concerted effort, in even one of these areas, small change is possible. With that, I say goodbye to 2014 and leave you with the words of the famous anthropologist Margaret Mead, “never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens, can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.”