I’ve been thinking a lot about this conversation over the last few days. There’s so much wrong with it, it’s hard to know where to start. It’s impossible to address all of it.
But let me start here. Civil discourse has two elements: civility, and discourse. Without the discourse part, all you have is civility; you might as well be discussing the herbs on the chicken you’re having for dinner. Civility allows the dialogue to happen, but if you aren’t listening to how people are responding, it’s not discourse.
A number of your friends have engaged, and engaged deeply, in the ideas you’re expressing, and we have all rejected them. Since you call us your friends, it might be expected that you would wonder why that is. You might ask for information we have encountered you have not. You might, in short, engage in discourse. But you have not. Instead, you return to your talking points. You avoid or reject direct questions. You find more citations. You repeat yourself. And then you repeat yourself again.
But honestly, that’s not really what I’m struggling with. The real problem I’m having with this conversation is that you seem to think we can have a conversation about racial justice without talking about race, and without talking about justice.
Talking about justice.
There’s a popular cartoon that has circulated about the dismissive response to the central them behind the “black lives matter” movement, the tired and exhausting “all lives matter” – which I understand is not what you’re saying. But the cartoon portrays two houses, one burning, and one not. “All houses matter,” a cartoon figure is saying, while spraying water on the one that isn’t on fire.
You’re not that cartoon figure, of course. You acknowledge the fire, and profess to understand that fire matters. But you appear to want to talk about which room is on fire, if it’s really burning, whether people are talking about fire in the right ways, and of course whether the people who called the fire department asked for the right kind of equipment.
I don’t care about any of that, my friend. I want to talk about the fire. I want to talk about racial justice.
Look at these videos.
Personally, I can’t look at these videos and conclude that the people in them are overreacting. Perhaps you can; perhaps you can watch these and decide to focus on the question of whether structural racism is the right name for what they’re talking about. Or whether these savage people are doing anything more than looting and rioting. You can decide that the real problem here is that they really should just be more… civil.
And of course, this one. (Content warning – contains depiction of graphic violence. Difficult to watch.)
But even that is just background. That’s the popular culture stuff. If you really want to have an informed conversation, you need to look directly at what’s going on. So here’s what I’ve been watching, in addition to what I could force myself through of the stuff you’ve been posting:
“The Thirteenth” – a detailed, rigorously researched exploration of the criminalization of African Americans and the U.S. prison boom.
“I Am Not Your Negro” – a journey into black history that connects the Civil Rights movement to #BlackLivesMatter.
Here is what I want to talk about.
And based on all of that, here’s what I want to talk about. Here’s the conversation I am actually having, with people who have honest and meaningful things to say.
I want to talk about the racial through-line that has existed in American politics from the very beginning, from the 3/5th compromise in the constitution, to the Civil War, to “Birth of a Nation,” to Jim Crow, to segregation, to Nixon’s “Tough on Crime”, to Reagan’s “War on Drugs,” to H.W. Bush’s “Willie Horton” ad, to Clinton’s “Even Tougher On Crime,” to Donald Trump’s “So Much Tougher on Crime Again.”
I want to talk about why 13% of this country’s population live in overt fear of law enforcement. I want to talk about why 1 in 3 black men in this country will go to prison in their lifetime, while only 1 in 17 white men will. I want to talk about why the United States, which has only 5% of the world’s population, has 25% of the world’s prison population. And, of course, I want to talk about the multi-billion for-profit prison industry, and I want to talk about the literal quotas some states have signed to keep that industry profitable. I want to talk about ALEC.
I want to talk about what we can do.
And then I want to talk about what we can do about it. I want to talk about abolishing civil forfeiture and qualified immunity. I want to talk about making it illegal to profit from prison labor. I want to talk about restoring the vote to every ex-convict. I want to talk about a constitutional amendment striking the clause “except as a punishment for crime” from the 13th Amendment.
I want to talk about instituting legislation at the national, state, and local level across the country that requires that for every dollar of investment made in “protecting” our society, at least another dollar is invested in improving our society: in social programs, in mental health care, in unarmed first responders for non-violent crimes, etc.
I want to talk about completely new ways to do things. I want to talk about replacing our “penal” system with one truly focused on rehabilitation. I want to talk about empowering victims. I want to talk about “restorative justice.”
There are so many useful, important things to talk about. I would love to be having that conversation with my friends.
But no. You want to talk about lack of civility . You want to talk about whether the protesters are protesting the right way. You want to quibble about the word “systemic.”
So yeah; I’m done. I want to stop talking about the size of the plate and the color of the tablecloth, and start talking about maggots crawling on the food. Until you’re ready to have that conversation, the only way I can think to respond is to, as you described it, “call you out.”