South Kern Sol, Commentary, Randy Villegas
In a political season that has become so polarizing, Americans are beginning to see their world through bi-polar lenses. In this world, the thinking goes, you only have 2 choices; and if you’re not on the correct side, you are everything that’s wrong with the world.
You’re either red, or you’re blue. You’re either a left wing liberal who wants to take everyone’s guns away, or you’re a right wing conservative that doesn’t care about the environment. You are either “blue lives matter” or you are “black lives matter.” You are either a “blue collar “worker or “white collar” worker.
These divisions go back to the very beginning of our nation, when you were either a free white person, or a colored person with no rights at all.
This whole “Us vs. Them” mentality has left our nation fragmented and more polarized than ever at any other time in recent memory. You don’t need to look any further than the comment section of any political post on social media to see people ridiculing each other on both sides of the aisle. Actually, you don’t have to look any further than our current Congress, where gridlock has become the norm.
How did this happen? It all began with a single train of thought … a thought that you must judge an entire group of people based upon the actions of a few, or a single person.
When a radical terrorist (domestic or foreign) commits an atrocious act that leaves our country devastated, we are quick to point fingers at the community this person comes from. But it goes beyond the threat of terrorism. When a police officer shoots an unarmed black man. When our economy crashes. When the American dream no longer seems obtainable. When things are failing in our nation, we find a vulnerable group that is “different’ in one way or another. We scapegoat a race, a religion, or a trait that defines a group and put the blame for all the nation’s ills on that one group. Because they are “different.”
I’m here to tell you that it doesn’t have to be this way. When police brutality occurs, there are still millions of police officers across our nation willing to sacrifice their lives and put themselves in harm’s way in order to save yours. When a terrorist attacks our nation in the name of Islam, I want to remind you that there are millions of Muslims in the U.S. who condemn these attacks, and thousands more that serve in our military to protect us against these terrorists. When you try to blame undocumented immigrants for crime and drugs, I’ll remind you that there are millions of undocumented immigrants who love this country and contribute to it every single day, allowing countless Americans to enjoy the fruits of their labor.
So when you hear Donald Trump talk about banning Muslims in the United States, or blaming Mexicans and undocumented immigrants for our nation’s problems, we must remember our common bonds.
That’s not to say we shouldn’t do anything about these issues. We should address the failing trust between communities and law enforcement. You can still support our police officers while advocating against police brutality. You can still go to mass every Sunday, and embrace your LGBTQ neighbor with nothing but love and support. We should embrace our diversity in America and stand up anytime we hear injustice or persecution against a any one group. We are all Americans and in the end we share a common goal.
Supporters of the Black Lives Matter movement are not saying that black lives are more important than police officers’ lives; they are saying that black lives are just as important. Supporters of the “blue lives matter” movement are not saying that police officers’ lives are more important than African American lives; they are simply saying that not all law enforcement should be painted with the same brush, and that sometimes officers do make justified use of force, especially when they are in fear for their life.
Both sides want peace. Both sides want to feel safe in their communities. Both sides want better police community relations. Both sides want a world where we can walk down the street and not live in fear of the other.
I don’t duck and hide whenever I see a Caucasian male walk into the movie theatre at night. I don’t fear for my life every time I see a Muslim person walking down the street. I don’t judge a police officer for the actions of other officers. Just as some would argue that we shouldn’t blame all responsible gun owners for the actions of a terrible mass shooter, we should not judge all Muslims based upon the actions of few. We should stop judging an entire group of people based upon the actions of individuals and start opening up a dialogue about our own implicit bias so that we may overcome it.
There are Republicans who genuinely care about the environment. There are Democrats who genuinely believe in fiscal responsibility. There are liberals who believe that we should tax less, and there are conservatives who believe that we need to support the LGBTQ community. The next time you are quick to judge someone simply because of a trait that defines them politically, religiously, racially, or otherwise, I encourage you to give yourself a reality check. The day people realize you are simply staring at another human being that breathes the same air, inhabits the same earth, and wants to live in a peaceful world just as much as you do, is the day we can take a step towards peace within our country, and within ourselves.
As we reflect on all of the tragic events that have unfolded both in the United States and around the world in the past year alone, it’s important to remember the words of the great Martin Luther King Jr.
“Darkness cannot drive out darkness,
Only light can do that.
Hate cannot drive out hate.
Only love can do that.”