Sifting through the Madness

lbj jfk“Information is not insight, analysis is not awareness, knowledge is not awareness.”

Jesuit priest and psychologist Anthony deMello wrote about the problem with confusing these concepts. Information, analysis, knowledge– they can inform, but they cannot direct. They can diagnose, but absent insight or awareness, they cannot effectively treat.

Awareness, for deMello, is a process akin to observing yourself and the world from a perspective outside yourself. This is me, observing me, responding emotionally to my environment. This is me, aware of the cultural filters on my perception of reality. To be aware is to fearlessly confront your conditioning, your biases, your piety, and to approach truth without labels or prejudgments.

We can see that information and analysis can produce a variety of sentiments. We can read an opinion piece in the Wall Street Journal by Heather MacDonald, rationalizing the deaths of black people by way of statistics: “…in 2015 officers killed 662 whites and Hispanics, and 258 blacks.” And to rationalize the disproportionate deaths of blacks, based on percentage of population, the author cites another statistic: “There were 6,095 black homicide deaths in 2014—the most recent year for which such data are available—compared with 5,397 homicide deaths for whites and Hispanics combined. Almost all of those black homicide victims had black killers.”

The argument of the piece was that black people die by the hands of police because they are statistically more dangerous to each other, more in need of police presence, and more likely to kill police officers. Cops, according to the author, should be applauded for protecting black communities, rather than condemned as racist killers.

We can see a different sentiment in the organized reaction by the Black Lives Matter protests across the nation. At a rally in Phoenix over the weekend– though not run by the official Arizona Black Lives Matter group– hundreds of protesters showed up, marching downtown, chanting and waving signs, demanding change, demanding justice.

The knowledge in the protesters’ minds is the knowledge of police killing black people. Killings seen, and felt emotionally, by graphic videos posted online. Knowledge also of the other killings– people who died running away from officers, people who died in police custody, people who died with their “hands up.” Maybe even personal knowledge, experience of discrimination.

Others try to unify these two sentiments, especially in the wake of the tragedy in Dallas. Black Lives Matter. Blue Lives Matter. How do we reconcile the two?

We even argue about hashtags. #BlackLivesMatter. #AllLivesMatter.

The best point I read on this distinction came from Sam Sawyer in the Jesuit Post: “#AllLivesMatter calls our attention to the principle, with which we already agree, rather than to the problem. But #BlackLivesMatter challenges us to conversion.”

Perhaps we are witnessing this conversion. Perhaps we are moving beyond hashtags toward community transformation.

Snoop Dogg, who in his prime rapped about killing other black people and killing cops, is now leading unity marches, meeting with LA police officers and preaching dialogue.

cant breatheNBA star Carmelo Anthony is encouraging his colleagues to move beyond wearing statements on their t-shirts and actually get involved in conversations with community leaders and politicians. He’s urging stars to use their influence to make a real difference.

In Phoenix, there are community meetings planned this week to dialogue about policing policies. Members of the Black Lives Matter group will be part of the discussions.

Heck, even Newt Gingrich, touted as a possible Trump Vice President, admitted recently that “if you are a normal white American, the truth is you don’t understand being black in America, and you instinctively under-estimate the level of discrimination and the level of additional risk.”

Personally, I agree with President Obama when he said that we aren’t as divided as it seems. We aren’t seeing the polarization that tore society apart in the 60’s.

But we do need to confront the problems. It’s disheartening that, in 2016, rather than judging not by the color of our skin but the content of our character, we are still hyper-focused on skin color.

To that end, information and analysis can be important. Does it matter that, according to the U.S. Bureau of Justice Statistics, black people make up 13% of the population but 40% of our prison population? Does it matter that, according to the U.S. Department of Justice investigation, Michael Brown didn’t have his “hands up” when shot, but was charging the officer?

Sure. While we’re at it we could throw up stats on disparities in education, poverty rate, biases in employment, fatherless homes. Why are the inner-cities different than the suburbs? We could analyze the crap out of these dynamics. And we do.

But our division is psychological. The wounds are not just physical or structural but emotional. The police killings are symbolic of deeper wounds that span centuries. Still not healed.

Analysis alone cannot heal our division. It cannot direct authentic action toward social change.

Awareness and conversion can inspire both.


Links to other writings on structural racism and the Black Lives Matter movement:

Article Review: The Black Family in the Age of Mass Incarceration

Listen to their Voices





Author: Billy

High school teacher and blogger.

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