American Experiment: Police State?

Empathy: the ability to understand and share the feelings of another.

Many people in the United States seem to only be capable of empathy toward family or people who look like them… like the anti-LGTBQ politician who softens his stance when his daughter reveals her homosexuality or the white suburban mom crusading against drug addiction who suddenly calls for treatment versus incarceration when the heroin addicts look like her kids.

So it’s been interesting to watch the eruption of protests in the U.S. (and the world) in the wake of the violent murder of George Floyd by police. I’ve been fascinated by the nuanced perspective toward the destruction which occurred in the initial protests as investigations reveal some of the violence was perpetrated by provocateurs. I’ve been surprised that those who have previously seemed unable to empathize with the videoed violence against black and brown bodies, are joining voices with those calling for police reform.

Maybe more citizens have discovered their empathy muscle. Or maybe they are waking up the realization that in a militarized police state, the brutality will eventually impact everyone…

“First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Socialist.
Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Trade Unionist.
Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Jew.
Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.” ~ Martin Niemöller

Renita Alexander, Leadership Unlocked

American Experiment: The Descendants

Bury me in the ocean with my ancestors who jumped from ships, cause they knew death was better than bondage”. ~ Erik “Killmonger” Stevens, from the movie “Black Panther.”

We might never know the exact country or tribe of our origins.

We will never be given full throated permission to participate fully in the rituals of those native to the African continent.

We are never going to be viewed the same as native Africans by the descendants of those who kidnapped, tortured and enslaved our ancestors.

We are the descendants of those who chose to live … fated to share the choices of our oppressors … fighting to exist in the country we have called home. We have no choice now but to fight for its existence.

“If we do not now dare everything, the fulfillment of that prophecy, re-created from the Bible in song by a slave, is upon us: God gave Noah, the rainbow sign, No more water, the fire next time!” ~ James Baldwin, The Fire Next Time

Renita Alexander, Leadership Unlocked

American Experiment: Never Have I Ever

I have never been brutalized by the police. Most of the police encounters I’ve had have been the result of my tendency to drive too fast, especially on the open road.

I shared this in response to a question from a young activist who asked a group of young activists, mostly millennials, to share their brutal encounters with the Chicago police.

I was the oldest person there and the only one to not have a story of police abuse.

So I listened to their hard-to-hear stories and marveled at their resilience and their willingness to risk additional mistreatment in protest of the state-sanctioned brutality against black and brown bodies.

I don’t have to experience the trauma to be able to empathize with those who have been traumatized. I don’t have to witness the brutalization to be able to see the devastation created. I don’t have to feel the particular confusion of unexpectedly being accused of wrong doing by someone with the state-sanctioned power to kill me to understand the disorientation and mental anguish of those who have.

I can bear witness. I can be a safe, soft landing space for those who seek to alleviate their suffering by sharing their pain. I can amplify their stories in the spaces I occupy.

Most importantly, I can accept their truth as true for them. And I can refrain from voicing doubt or even denying their experience just because it wasn’t MY experience.

“I ain’t going nowhere. If you brave enough to live it, the least I can do is listen.” ~ Cynthia Bond, Ruby

Renita Alexander, Leadership Unlocked

American Experiment: Toxic Relationship

As the body count of unarmed Black Americans murdered by state-sanctioned violence continues to rise, I’ve been thinking about the relationship between the United States and its citizens of color.

America is like a parent who tells you “you ain’t nothing, you ain’t never gonna be nothing” and when you prove them wrong by building your city, your Greenwood, or your Rosewood, they burn it down and leave you to fend for yourself.

America is like a sibling in denial about their status as “favorite” who insists if you would just call Mom and Dad more often but refrain from pointing out the disparities between your treatment in the education, housing, employment, healthcare, and justice systems, they just might treat you better.

America is like the grandparent who gives your cousins free land, free housing, access to better education and jobs, who looks the other way when they are committing crimes and then wonders why you aren’t as successful.

America is like a fiancé who asks you to work three jobs to support his medical internship or be lover and secretary while he builds a business then when he gains success, has an affair with a white girl.

America is like a spouse who asks you to show your love and preserve your union by serving in the War of Rebellion, World Wars I and II, the Korean War, Vietnam, etc. and then when you get home, denies your existence.

America is like your family who, after adopting some children from Europe, takes your room and makes your other sibling do all the chores.

The United States wants love and loyalty from a population to which it has primarily offered hate. I’m sure a relationship expert would point out the toxicity and probably advise any client experiencing this kind of abuse to leave.

But what if the toxic relationship is with your country of birth? What do you do then?

Renita Alexander, Leadership Unlocked

American Experiment: The Re-education of the United States

If you make a man feel that he is inferior, you do not have to compel him to accept an inferior status, for he will seek it himself.” ~ Carter Godwin Woodson, The Mis-Education of the Negro

Let me say up front that this only marginally about Candace Owens (Farmer). In case you aren’t familiar with Owens, she is a former anti-conservative, turned conservative and enjoys “approved-Negro” status among Trump supporters. In her latest self-proclaimed rant, she seems to mis-read an entire world erupting in protest after the government-sanctioned death of George Floyd, to declare him a “violent criminal” who should not be depicted as a martyr or a hero by the media. Her words have earned her the wrath of her many detractors who consistently deride her as, among other things, an attention seeker, a self-hating troll, a white supremacist or an apologist for white supremacy.

I don’t know that anyone has depicted Floyd as anything other than someone who did not deserve to die in the manner and for the reason he died. He wasn’t a martyr in that he did not choose to die; in fact he begged for his life and was met with indifference.

I also don’t know that Owens is an adherent of white supremacy which is defined as “the belief that white people are superior to those of all other races, especially the black race, and should therefore dominate society.” I don’t know how she feels about herself or about being a black women in this country.

I do know she is not the only descendant of the enslaved, brought to this country in chains, who seems aligned with the dominant culture beliefs of this country, namely white supremacy. That shouldn’t be surprising; white supremacy permeates ALL U.S. systems and ALL U.S. citizens have been indoctrinated through those systems and socialization to believe in the superiority of white people and the inferiority of non white people, especially black people.

The United States’ education system, in particular, continues to perpetuate a whitewashed version of our history that elevates whites as heroic, while ignoring the violence of whites toward non whites. As noted teacher, lecturer, and diversity trainer Jane Elliott says, “If you participated in the U. S. education system and don’t believe in white supremacy, you weren’t paying attention.”

The lessons learned in the education system are reinforced by the housing system which has historically made homeownership more difficult and less beneficial for blacks people; by employment and healthcare systems that have kept many black people underemployed and unhealthy; and by a “justice” system that has criminalized black and brown skin.

The resulting disparities are misrepresented as evidence supporting white supremacy instead of what they really are — the consequences of systems intent on maintaining the status quo.

Even when black people overcome systemic oppression, according to Robin DiAngelo author of White Fragility, their success only reinforces America’s belief in the myths of individualism (which says that we are each unique and stand apart from others), and meritocracy (anyone can succeed if he or she works hard) and “obscures the reality of ongoing institutional white control.”

Candace Owens may really believe what she says or she may be taking advantage of an opportunity to boost her profile and conservative bonafides. I’m not going to expend any additional energy her or anyone else stuck on dominant culture beliefs about superiority of inferiority. Instead, I’m going to focus my energy on encouraging those who have felt or feel inferior or superior to recognize that the systems intent on generating those feelings and outcomes prevent the U.S. from achieving its ideal and educate themselves accordingly.

As the U.S. demographics shift and the majority white population declines, change is inevitable. That change is already reflected in the youngest generations; the huge protests we’ve seen in this country are less about one person and reflect the dissatisfaction many, especially the increasingly diverse Generations Y and Z, feel with the status quo. And we will either be a country led by a minority or we can create a country where all are seen equally and treated equitably.

Renita Alexander, Leadership Unlocked