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Beyond The Game

Introspective: When it comes to racism, time to search hearts, souls

Looking in mirror can be a reflective experience
By Ken Waltz | Jun 13, 2020

The time has passed, in fact, is now, for each of us — yes, that means you and me — to do deep, sincere and, most likely, uncomfortable, emotionally-painful, soul-searching.

As the nation and its 330 million people physically and spiritually cope with more than two million afflicted, 117,000 dead and social and financial hardship from the COVID-19 (coronavirus) pandemic, the seemingly never-ending political polarization and another period of civil unrest that sprouted from the most recent death of a person of color at the hands of law enforcement, each of us is left to do one thing — take a long, hard look in the mirror.

To stare at ourselves, eye-to-eye, person-to-person, to have a frank, one-on-one conversation. To ask ourselves difficult questions. To search our intellect — and hearts — to figure out where we honestly stand in the unfair and unjust treatment of people of color before and during the nearly 250 years of our constitutional republic.

We must ask how we can help change the narrative of race relations and help our nation unite to treat all its citizens with the same fairness, understanding, empathy and common human decency.

This has nothing to do with politics, or the flag, or the military or any other false narrative. It has to do with one thing: How human beings see, and more importantly, treat other human beings based on bias.

While it is difficult to judge one's self, I would consider myself a decent human being, as well as one with significant flaws.

A person who tries, and often fails, to be kind, empathetic, understanding and patient. One who tries, but often fails, not to judge others based on gender, age, physical appearance, mental acuity, heritage, cultural background, political and religious leanings, sexuality or skin color, among other criteria.

I desperately try to form opinions based on a person's character and, frankly, how each individual treats their fellow human beings.

There is no more to it.

Every human being is exactly like me. While we may have different backgrounds, histories and social//cultural experiences, we are the same. Biological creatures created equally trying to navigate the good and bad, as well as peaks and valleys, of life.

The rest of it — including social and financial status — should mean nothing. I realize it does to many, but it should not.

I also realize as a white man I have been afforded opportunities and privileges others, including, but not limited to, people of color and women, have not. I have never experienced the systematic, consistent and often blatant discrimination — so could never fully understand it — so many others have so I come from a different place, but, still, from a place where human decency matters and should be practiced.

I was brought up to treat each person I interact with with the respect and understanding I would expect in return. No matter what.

Racism is a powerful word, one that should not be used lightly or without considerable evidence. It is a description thrown around, especially in posts/comments on social media, when a person may be unable to come up with a better way to explain something that makes them sad or angry.

Sometimes I believe that word is thrown out to describe something we do not understand. Sometimes that word is off the mark and loses some of its vitally important meaning.

Of course, often, unfortunately, that word is used to label real racism and the ugliness that comes with that hateful human personality trait.

That stated, I feel, in my heart and soul, I am not a racist. However, I do believe all of us have a level of inherent bias created from our cultural, societal and familial experiences and harbored in our learned DNA. Unfortunately, that is human nature.

Bias and hate is learned, cultivated and then, in some, ingrained.

Humans are born with a blank canvas. No bias, no hate. They are, until taught otherwise, color blind when it comes to the shade of another person's skin.

My wife, Sarah, tells a story of when she was in kindergarten and after an open house her mom, seeking a way to identify a child, asked Sarah about the little "black" girl in her class. My wife's response was, "What black girl." At the time, my wife, at the tender age of 5, did not see her friend by the color of her skin.

Who was this "black" girl her mother spoke of?

Most can identify human inequality when they see it. Actual racism is a state of mind, a state of being, a way of life for those whose hearts and souls are filled with hate, anger and fear.

Like so many, I saw the video from May 25 in Minneapolis, Minn. of George Floyd, a black man handcuffed and helpless, lying face down on the road while a policeman, in this case, a white officer, with his knee on the back of Floyd's neck for nearly nine minutes as Floyd repeatedly told the officer of his pain, his inability to breath, which, ultimately, as we now know, was a pivotal cause of Floyd's death.

As I watched the video, I was horrified, saddened, sick to my stomach, angry and, frankly, I wanted justice. I wondered, again, why this type of treatment continues to happen in our country to people of color.

In my younger days, I wanted to be a police officer. In fact, I have a degree in criminal justice. I fully understand the difficult, dangerous and life-threatening situations our law enforcement personnel face each day. They often sacrifice their safety to keep us out of harm's way. For that, I am thankful and greatly appreciative.

But when I saw what I instantly knew was abuse of power, what I perceived as a blatant racist act, it hurt. Bad. And I again, for yet another time in my 60 years on this planet, wondered why one person, a white person, could treat another, a person of color, like that?

Of course, there always is more to each story, the complete picture, the circumstances that led to the actions we see, but, since, in this case, the four officers involved have been charged, one for murder, it appears laws, as well as obvious human rights, were violated, ultimately, in a deadly way.

This one act paints such a negative picture for all law enforcement and certainly makes their jobs more difficult. I understand that. In this case, one bad apple, and historically, a bushel full of bad apples, has spoiled the fact a majority of those in law enforcement make up a healthy, tasteful and helpful orchid full of fruit.

At this point, one might ask, why does Ken Waltz find it necessary to offer an opinion on racism when he is an out-of-touch older white male who lives in the perhaps the whitest area in the whitest state in America? My answer would be simply, because, as a member of the human race, I have thoughts, experiences, emotions which allow me to judge, for myself, what looks like unkind or unjust acts from one person or group, toward another based on race, religion, gender or sexuality, among other identifications, with bias as the end result.

As a matter of full disclosure, when I saw what Drew Brees, longtime New Orleans Saints professional football quarterback and future hall of famer, said about those who kneel during the playing of the national anthem, a sign of peaceful protest made by former National Football League player Colin Kaepernick, and others, in his quest to put a spotlight on the abuse of Black Americans at the hands of police, I thought, I once felt exactly like that.

For so many, including me at the time, Kaepernick's message of shining a light on what has been a concerning and consistently documented level of police brutality toward those of color, was lost by the method and timing in which Kaepernick protested.

In my mind at the time, it was not the time or place for such a protest. To kneel during the playing of the national anthem was disrespectful to the country, flag and military, the men and women, of all races, who sacrificed and continue to sacrifice so much to allow us so much freedom and opportunity, including the ability for talented athletes to make millions of dollars to play sports.

I grew up saying, in school, the pledge of alliance to the flag and standing for the national anthem. It was taught to me and ingrained in my being. I was proud to be an American, and all that means, and was proud to honor our country, our military and our way of life by standing for the national anthem.

When I was in grade school, we had flag day in June. We happy but naive (innocent?) children walked out of the building and sat in chairs around the American flag pole. It made me so proud to look up at Old Glory flapping in the wind. It made me feel pride in being an American.

So, when Kaepernick and others knelt, it initially made made me angry. It did not matter the color of the skin of the people kneeling, just that they were kneeling and, in my mind, being disrespectful to our country, flag and history. They were being unpatriotic.

In actuality, I support Kapernick's cause. I believe he is correct and he and others needed a way to facilitate change in how some, not all, in law enforcement treat people of color. I simply did not like the time and place of the protest. Protest at halftime on the field, in front of the stadium, on social media, wherever, but that act during that moment just seemed wrong — out of place and unnecessary.

So the message, a powerful one at that time and this time, was lost to many, including me.

Interestingly, during this time I had a spirited discussion with my 30-year-old son, Brandon, about this subject. He said he supported Kaepernick's right to kneel when and where he wanted. Brandon said, what better time to protest than when one has the spotlight of national television and a filled football stadium. The message being sent will be heard — and seen — loud and clear.

Brandon told me protest is protest, regardless of time, place and space. That did not make sense to me at the time. We respected each other's stances and agreed to disagree.

So, after considerable thought and enlightenment, with a chance to open my head and heart, I have become, as this generation likes to say, woke. I woke up to the greater, deeper meaning — and issues — and stopped focusing on what I believe was a slight of our flag, military and country.

It was a peaceful, respectful protest, no more, no less. A way to shine a light on a problem that needs to be addressed in a real, sustainable way. It was, in actuality, what our country is about. The ability of all to have a voice and express it as they see fit within the laws of the land.

I, like Brees, initially missed the point of the protests. I was insensitive to the plight of those of color, which was never my intention. At the time, I just did not like the time and place. But I have, in the past few years, learned to listen more and talk less. To think more deeply and become more understanding.

Thus, we all must have difficult conversations with each other and ourselves. To educate one another. This is about human decency, understanding that a group of people, who may not look like us, continue to hurt and continue to be angry about being marginalized, from being pushed down, from being killed often without provocation or reason other than because of the color of their skin.

That is plain wrong and we, I, this country must do better. Much better. The country I love and cherish must do better to equalize opportunities for all its citizens and protect each of them with the same consistent hand — by the letter of the law and by the letter of the constitution.

When we deal with others, including those who are fundamentally different in their thought, education, experiences, political leanings and skin color, each of us needs to be humble, kind, understanding, empathic and figure out a way to listen, hear and then act appropriately.

As the old adage goes, treat others as you want to be treated.

The rest of it is simply background noise. Too bad there is so much of that noise — along with hate, jealousy and fear — to drown out the good stuff good people do each day.

Hate is an emotion based on ignorance or the irrational fear of someone unlike you. We need to accept the fact the world is full of people who are not like us, do not think like us and act like us.

It is OK for us to be different — so let us learn to embrace our differences and work toward common goals to make our human experiences more rich and rewarding — and eliminate the hate and bias from your heart.

This is yet another pivotal historic moment in our country's growth. The question is, when all is said and done, on which side of history will you stand?

In the never-ending learning process on our journeys through life, I still have much to contemplate, much to digest and more soul-searching.

As, perhaps, do you.

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Comments (2)
Posted by: Reade Brower | Jun 14, 2020 13:15

Well said Ken. I join you in and pledge to try to get out of the way of my own ignorance in supporting change, which is all the Kaepernick was looking for. I think I will kneel with my hand over my chest to support Kaepernick and the movement while also being able to honor my patriotism at the same time. Sometimes standing up for what we believe might be taking a knee.

Posted by: Richard McKusic, Sr. | Jun 14, 2020 11:22

Seems to me, Mr. Waltz, that you have been doing a whole lot of soul searching: "

"I desperately try to form opinions based on a person's character and, frankly, how each individual treats their fellow human beings.

There is no more to it."

My belief is that the God of my understanding cares a whole lot more about how we treat one another than  our man made theology. Isaiah 1:11-29 makes that pretty clear.

Love, like you are talking about, is the only thing that will get our world back to some sense of sanity.  Most of us are ready. ;)

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