The world is not black and white. It is complex and puzzling. There are no easy answers. But sometimes, things are clear. It is clear at this moment that black Americans have suffered violence and bias in this country for far too long, and more must be done by all of us to support and defend them, to assure them that we will no longer tolerate racism in any form. We have waited too long, we have spoken up too infrequently, we have considered their suffering to be their problem and not ours. The protests are necessary and healthy, and we should not only welcome them, we should join them.
There is another black and white crisis that is raging through our country, and it must also be addressed. It is not the color of our skin in this case, but the nature of our thought. There is a black and white thinking which has spread like a virus through our country and has infected our minds. It has poisoned the wells of ideas at which we drink voraciously through social media and the 24 hour news cycle. It pulls at the seams of the fabric of our society, and it is threatening to tear us apart.
Some will suggest that tearing is a good thing. Some want to see the structures burn and the institutions crumble. That is black and white thinking. It advocates rebellion, destruction and conflict rather than progress, due process and collaboration. It is angry and irrational, and while anger is understandable and excusable, we cannot allow ourselves to become so emotional and irrational that we can see only in black and white.
What we need at this moment is the ability to transcend binaries. To see shades and nuance. To resist monolithic thinking, which is the tendency to build impregnable structures to hide behind and to entrench oneself on one side or the other.
It is possible to support the protestors and also the police who are tasked with maintaining peace and order. Why must we be for one and not the other?
The notion that one of these groups is righteous while the other is evil is neither logical nor beneficial. The vast majority of the members on each side are good and want good for themselves, their loved ones and all of the members of their society. That does not mean that there aren’t bad actors - sadly there are. They are on both sides, and they are the minority.
Gandhi said “You must not lose faith in humanity. Humanity is like an ocean; if a few drops of the ocean are dirty, the ocean does not become dirty.”
There are bad cops and bad leaders. There is institutional racism. There is implicit bias. All of these must be confronted and defeated. But that does not mean that the system must be overthrown in order to be improved. It does not mean that our enemies are those who protect both the law and the citizens who expect to be protected by the law.
There are looters. There are fascists and anti-fascists mingling in the crowd. There are opportunists and power-brokers who are taking advantage of the situation to promote their personal and/or political aims. But that does not indict the masses of black Americans and their allies who are marching for the ideals of liberty and equality which they are promised by our Constitution.
Any tendency to characterize, categorize and criticize large blocs or groups of people (races, religions, political parties, etc.) is black and white thinking, and should be questioned. Isn’t it possible that my assumptions and assessments of such a wide range of individuals are overly generalized and insufficiently nuanced? Isn’t it likely that there exists far more complexity and diversity within this group than I have been willing to recognize or admit?
None of this is to suggest that one should compromise her/his values or principles. Nor is it to propose that we should stand down and allow injustice to perpetuate. But there is a way to rise up without pressing others down. We can raise our voice without razing our towns.
If your love for something is measured by your hate for something else, then this is not love.
There are times to fight, but no time for hate. If you fight because you hate, then you will always be fighting because the fight is within you.
Martin Luther King, Jr. said "Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.”
Hate is black and white. Love is every color and no color. If it is truly the wellbeing of black Americans that we are interested in, then we will work for their security and their equality with love and optimism. We will not white-wash their pain or co-opt their moment. We will not utilize their struggle to grind our own axes or fight our own battles.
The world is complex, and it calls for complex thinking and complex solutions. It is not time to take sides or draw lines in the sand. It is time to erase lines, blend the black and white, and explore all of the shades of gray that exist within us and around us.