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For an inclusive society, teach our children a new story (Commentary)
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As our country experiences the trauma of the killing of yet another black man by police, and the nationwide fallout and polarization arising from it, we must ask ourselves: How is it possible that a people who can harness boundless energy, spirit and collaboration to conquer outer space can struggle and fail to eliminate the racial and economic chasm that plagues our country? We have failed to explore our inner space — our human consciousness.
To change our future, we must change our story about ourselves. We are a country of conflicting narratives: Among many white Americans, there is a faith that our great, striving, American character is girded by our indomitable human spirit. But when we think about that same (hopefully) human spirit inside a black body, or that of other minorities and poor whites, we instead see people who we are meant to dominate, and fail to recognize that we have created a construct and a system to keep “them” there.
For all the programs, conferences, meetings, regulatory bodies and money thrown at the issues of race and poverty, we’ve failed to enable and mobilize our most critical resource: our inner selves. Until we are able to look inside and realize that there is a different story — a different voice — we will not change the story in the world around us.
Three hundred years ago in India, the common people had no rights and were buried under layers of oppression. The Gurus awakened their spirits and taught them a different story – that God alone determines their position and no worldly power can determine their fate. From the dregs of society, they raised a social movement, Khalsa, that defended everyone’s right to pray without fear of persecution, to work hard to earn an honest living, and proclaimed their moral obligation to share with those in need. They built a Sikh Empire where peace reigned and all were respected, until the British subverted and “subjected” them to feed the greed of the “civilized world.” The impact of colonization still colors our world today.
Generational poverty and the systemic injustice that has mutated must be solved. It’s the greatest debt on the world’s collective balance sheet and we will pay several times over if we don’t pay it off. We have created a permanent underclass. Millions of young Americans see no hope of ever rising out of poverty, of even reaching the starting line. We must remove the constraints and allow them to fly if we are to progress and prosper as a nation.
The greatest constraint that impacts black people, rich and poor alike, is the dehumanization by the police, which literally kills them. For those who are “officers of the peace,” it must be incredibly painful to watch the trend of “militarization” and movement away from community policing. Intentionally or subtly, in too many cases, we’ve trained our police to intimidate rather than protect, and trained our children to fear them.
As one who lived through the pain and riots following the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr., I remember asking the sole black student in our class at the University of Rochester, “How do you feel?” Sitting alone in the cafeteria, obviously stunned, he just shook his head. Ironically, the dining hall was in the “Frederick Douglass Building,” where a white marble bust of Douglass greeted people. Who knew Douglass was black? It must have seemed like a major concession or demonstration of compassion for university leadership to replace it with a black bust shortly thereafter. And perhaps that black student felt some satisfaction. Things have changed since then, but “The Change” is still to come. And if that means we might have to share some more power, we will end up with a more prosperous country, for the pie will expand.