The best evidence that we as a country lost our way on how to deal with this country’s history
with the “other” (Black, brown, Asian and Indigenous populations) is that a larger segment of our American society has been more distressed by a Black man kneeling during the national anthem than they are about a police officer kneeling on the neck of a Black man until he is dead.
Until and unless white Americans acknowledge and take action individually and collectively to address the overt murderous racism represented by the actions of four police officers in Minnesota and the systemic racism that plagues our society, we will not be truly and completely aligned with the aspirations of our Bill of Rights and the Constitution.
I proudly serve as the chancellor of the University of Wisconsin-
Platteville. I know it is possible, as discordant as it is to some, to love this country while at the same time acknowledge its flawed history. I am proud to be a native-born Iowan and respectful of the hardworking people of southwest Wisconsin and the tri-state region, while at the same time be frustrated by the very disturbing aspects of our history of race relations.
I am also a Black man living in America. My position and status may afford me, at times, some protections from some indignities of racial profiling. This assumes that the actors are aware of my position. However, when I am in my car driving down the road, I am simply another Black man. That means that every time I see the flashing lights of a police car in my rearview mirror, I cringe. Not because I resent the possibility of a speeding ticket if I deserve one. Rather, because I know it is possible and likely that if I am pulled over, my encounter with the “peace” officer might mean being treated disrespectfully at best and fraught with far greater peril at worst.
This is true whether I happen to be driving in New York City or Michigan, North Carolina or Arizona, all places I have lived. The same is true in Iowa or Illinois, Dubuque or Platteville. Believe me, I know from experience. Being Black also means that at any given moment some white person will say or do something, intentionally or unintentionally, in a big way or a small way, that demeans me because I am not white. I cannot mistrust every white person I encounter, nor do I want to. It can be as simple as my response to the question of where do I work? Once I tell them at UW-Platteville, the usual rejoinder is what sport do you coach?
It can be the police officer calling me Denny as opposed to Dennis, or better yet Mr. Shields. That is the reality that I live in. I have come to terms with this. I had to, because if I did not, I could not be a force for good and maintain a healthy mental attitude.
I have managed to keep my dignity and succeed by most measures, notwithstanding the obstacles placed in front of me because of my race. But I wonder … I wonder in what universe is it appropriate to think the best course of action is to grab your gun and jump into your pickup and to accost someone while they are jogging?
I wonder why white people get to put on flak jackets and carry automatic weapons to intimidate elected officials and not be contested at all.
In this great country, how can it be that the president thinks calling troops on peaceful protesters just to clear a path for a photo opportunity is the thing to do?
The issues surrounding race are a scourge on the aspiration for a civil, equitable society and will not be solved in a day, a week or decades. They are deep-seated, longstanding and complex. In this moment I do wonder about this one thing, however. I wonder, if we could agree that killing unarmed Blacks by police and others needs to stop.