I used to write about social issues, politics and world news on here quite often. Actually, writing about those things on here is how I became one of the first writers for Collective Publishing, where for the first year I was paid to write about politics until switching over to the weekly pop culture columnist and film critic in March 2012.
My lack of writing about those topics doesn't mean that I am no longer interested in them or that I stopped paying attention to them. Instead, I've been exhausted by how social media has turned discussions and thoughtful discourse into heated debates and arguments. It is no longer people sharing their sides to foster a healthy dialogue where we obtain better understanding but rather a bloody death match where there are two clear sides with one battling to come out a victor. Except there are no victors when a debate is about winning, and one is closed off to growth and change.
Maybe it has always been this way. But social media has exacerbated it and I'm too old for this shit. But as a writer, I've also realized that it hasn't been healthy for me to keep it bottled up and so I may start trying to write about certain issues again and share my opinions. I'll keep my fingers crossed that commenters will remember the importance of civility. I welcome different opinions and viewpoints and politics, but I'm not even the slightest bit interested in battling out our views for the right to be declared the World Heavyweight Champion of Smart. I'd rather us to be open to learn and understand each other better.
George Floyd was murdered on May 25th by a now former Minneapolis police officer (I know his name, but I don't feel like giving him the recognition, so you can Google it). Shortly after that, protests began in the city and then spread across the United States. It needs to be mentioned that most of them were peaceful, but some news outlets and authority figures/people in power decided to focus on the more violent and destructive riots. This is going to be one of the major news items of 2020 and I've been mostly avoiding talking about it for the last week.
Part of the reason is that I am so exhausted and frustrated and sad that this continues to be a thing in 2020.
Part of it is that Covid-19 brings stress around work and life so I'm already mentally and emotionally fragile, which makes it hard to use the necessary brain power to eloquently write about this.
A big part of it is also that I'm a white male and to be honest, we get a lot of the white male perspective. I'm also a white male that grew up very comfortable and I've had a privileged life with a lot of opportunities. I've been allowed to make mistakes and get second or even fifth chances that people of a different background are not afforded. Simply put, I don't know what it is like to be black nor can I relate to the hardships that are baked into their day to day life.
This isn't to say that I don't get a voice. Hell, white males get their voices heard plenty and there are many who are quick to listen to them. I'm allowed to write my opinion, and have it read, but I also wanted to be really careful how I expressed it. Because again, I can sympathize with the cruel hardship that blacks have endured for over a century in North America and I can offer my support, but I can never truly share or experience it.
I remember when the great Roger Ebert was alive that on top of his usual movie reviews, he also had a blog where he'd write about a vast swath of topics that often were political or about social issues. Ebert tended to lean liberal in his views, and often when he wrote about the more controversial topics, a comment would inevitably pop up proclaiming that Roger should stick to reviewing movies and questioned what a film critic knew about politics.
That kind of response has always driven me nuts because it drips with ignorance. Whenever someone from a certain field of expertise decides to weigh in on another topic, there are those that attack the profession rather than the subject matter and content of the opinion. Everyone is allowed to have opinions. Everyone has the ability to research. Everyone can learn. Everyone can listen too. I always thought Ebert was very thoughtful and informed when he talked about any subject, but the most important thing was he always seemed to be willing to grow and he was open to criticism and open to admitting when he was wrong. I think those attributes are much more important when it comes to starting a dialogue.
I do think that I am qualified to talk about the murder of George Floyd and the subsequent protests and riots, but I also know that I also must be willing to listen and learn, because my experience is not one that has the justified rage, fear and hurt that exists among many blacks.
Back in high school. I wasn't a super popular guy and in Grade 9, I did get teased and picked on a few times. It wasn't anything too major, but enough to rattle my already fragile self-esteem. What was eye-opening to me was that I had a friend who also wasn't super popular, and he did get picked on as well. But he was insulted with words and treated in a way that I never had to experience. Up until that time, I largely believed that racism was something from decades ago and the Civil Rights movement had fixed the ills of racism. My good friend with the different skin colour who had to endure racists remarks and got picked on to a physical extent that I never ever experienced was living and sad proof that racism still existed.
It was also around this time that I watched movies like Boyz N the Hood and Do the Right Thing and witnessed worlds and experiences that I never had or would be part of. It made me realize how deep racism was rooted and how easily systemic racism spread throughout society. From that point, I swore to try to be more aware and empathetic and be open to trying to understand suffering and hurt that would never be part of my life. I don't always get it right and there are times that I have most assuredly been inadvertently racist, but my eyes are at least open that there is a problem and I am not about to purposefully make it worse.
My heart was broken with the Rodney King incident that happened during this time and little did I know that police brutality and systemic racism would continue and at times get even worse through my lifetime. I think. Do the Right Thing is a masterpiece and proof that Spike Lee is an all-time great filmmaker. But I also think that it is absolutely horrible that in 2020 that the movie is still relevant and has direct parallels to modern times.
Our society is broken. It has been broken for a long time. I want to make it clear that as a Canadian that I am not immune, and my country has its own horrendous racist history and that racism is prevalent in this country too. We need to do better.
In 2020, we need to stop worrying so much about being right. We need to stop seeing each discussion as a sporting even with a winner and loser. We need to start listening, so that we can learn, empathize, understand and be better.
I trust most people feel the peaceful protests are justified or at least, I've been blessed in not having to read or hear about anyone complaining about people uniting over the murder of an innocent human being. But there has been a lot of hostility and outrage over the riots. I am not here to defend them. But I also realize the riots are coming from well-over 200 years of outrage of abuse, racism, injustice and cruelty being perpetuated on a population due to their skin. Over 200 years where progress is still slow and in some cases many steps backwards like with a man beloved by racists getting into the White House (of course, he is the least racist person he knows). It is a voice that continues to be stifled and ignored. If I go into a store with a forged cheque, I know that the end result will not be my death but sadly, that isn't the case for everyone. I don't get panic attacks every time I see a police car, but there are people who do and that should not be the truth in 2020. I won't endorse the riots, but I won't condemn them either.
If a sports team loses a championship or even wins a championship, there has been many cases where there are riots and looting that wrecks a city. I'd say the murder of George Floyd is far more significant than who won the last Stanley Cup. There is a lot of anger and it is justified. It is too bad that businesses were ruined, but it is even worse that an innocent black man was murdered.
Every time police brutality and the murder of a black man makes the media, there is the hashtag of #BlackLivesMatter. They do. I hope, most people can agree with that. Unfortunately, it is often followed by #AllLiveMatter or #BlueLiveMatter. It as if these people are confused into thinking that the movement is saying that only black lives matter. Or that it is a condemnation of every police officer, who many are great human beings that have sworn to protect us. But it isn't those things Of course, all live matter, but that isn't the issue here. The issue is the wrongful treatment and abuse of blacks, and that is what needs to be spotlighted. It isn't a one or the other. Standing by the rights of blacks isn't meaning the destruction of everyone else or the declaration all police are evil. I know several police officers personally, and each of them are incredible human beings and some of the kindest and most sincere people that I know. #BlackLivesMatter is not meant as an attack against them but rather support for black lives.
There is too much of the 'vs. mentality.' Too much of an either one side or the other. Things will never get better if we keep worrying about if we are right. We are never going to get better if every discussion is turned into a debate with an eye on victory. We need to have civil discussions. We need to show kindness, compassion and empathy. Most of all, we need to listen. Please, we need to fucking listen.
I am so exhausted, heartbroken and depressed over all of this. I can't imagine what it is like for so many others that experience this on a daily basis. But I am going to try to start listening more, so that I can better understand. I am going to try to figure out where I can be better and where I can help. Things need to change, and it will start with love, compassion and empathy. It will start with a willingness to listen to each other, so we can better understand and make the right changes.
If we start listening and if we start having discussions with the goal to learn and understand than maybe just maybe things will get better and things will start to heal. Maybe when my kids are my age that they will watch Do the Right Thing and think, 'I can't believe that is a thing that used to happen.'