I decided to write this post after I witnessed the events of January 6, 2021 in our nation’s capital. Like many, I was in disbelief, frustrated, saddened, humiliated, and angry. I am a U.S. Airforce veteran and consider myself very patriotic. The events of January 6 disturbed me and challenged my confidence in our government. Although we are in the midst of COVID and experiencing challenges to our political system, we had not experienced anything like the insurrection that took place on that day.
For that reason, I was humbled and reminded of how quickly one’s life could change. Although I have views different from those that marched and then stormed the capitol building, as an American, I respect their right to freedom of speech and their personal views. I condemn the actions that lead to the death of at least five individuals on that day. Those acts of expression were not patriotic and further divide us as a nation. “We the People” have to do better!
After watching the news with family and trying to understand why things were unfolding the way they did, I had a conversation with my brother. A little background: I’m a Black male from the South. My brother and I were raised in a Southern Baptist (Christian) household. Our family beliefs and values are deeply rooted in religion. My brother, two years younger than me, and I had a conversation after he became extremely frustrated with family members and what he was seeing in the news. My brother is a faithful Trump supporter and often debates with others over historical facts and current events. He strongly believes that Trump has done a better job for the country and for Black people than any other president. He also believes the media lies to benefit Democrats and as a result, the election was stolen.
During my conversation with my brother, he vented about how he feels family is coming down on him for his beliefs and how he feels they speak to him as if he is dumb. It was important for me to humble myself and recognize that my values could be different from that of my family while experiencing the same thing. We started the conversation by discussing the issues at hand: Discerning fact from lies, healthy conversations, and understanding historical prospective of where we are as a people (Black people).
A big part of his argument with one of my uncles is around determining fact from lies. My uncle was brought up during the civil rights movement in a Christian household. He referenced the Bible and cited events from the civil rights movement. My brother countered with articles and books he pressed my uncle to read. The challenge for both is, “What do we believe?” In many cases, the information was not written or vetted by Black people. A big part of the conversation surrounded the belief in the Bible. My brother argued that the book was written by man and transcribed by white men. In addition, it had been used to keep Black people in check yet give us hope during slavery. He also argued that it still confines us to imperial thinking. So, the question was and still is, “Where do we get information we can trust?”
For days now, I have heard people say, “the right side of history”. The fact is there is no right or wrong side of history if it is rooted in facts. The problem is the winning or most influential side typically immortalizes history to their favor. In order for us as a people and as a country to come together, we have to resolve the issue of discerning facts from lies in an effort to have discourse rooted in fact.
The second challenge I discussed with my brother was around healthy conversations. As a Black male, I understand the frustration and anger harbored when someone isn’t feeling heard, recognized, or always presented with the opposing view. Part of my discussion with him was about approach. We often start conversations with a statement that can be offensive or appear to challenge. I presented him with the option of starting conversations with questions. In that he would give the other person the option to speak first and him the option to listen. I then challenged him not to make a statement or tell the other person anything.
Instead, I pushed him to dig deeper and ask more questions to increase his understanding and as a way of digging into the thinking of the person to whom he’s talking. This is a shift for him, because he usually responds to what he hears and often, a debate or argument takes place. I explained the concept of unpacking one’s mindset or thinking to see the impact of one’s thinking and actions. This allows one to come to their own realizations and helps to solidify the shift they will make in their thinking or actions. In addition, it also allows one to listen and process what the other person is saying. This helps with empathy and humility.
We discussed the balance of asking and telling, leaning more towards asking questions and only telling when we are asked, or the sharing of information or resources critical to the conversation. The key is to keep the lines of communication open. Once an argument starts, listening ceases and emotion takes over often resulting in resentment, hurt, or anger. My brother’s argument to me was that people are closed minded and not willing to hear or entertain other’s views. I agreed with him because unlike many, we grew up in south Florida and attended a high school we often referred to as the United Nations. It was the experiences and relationships we built there and in the military for me that helped to open my mind and heart.
The last thing we discussed was the understanding of historical perspective. We often have discussed how each generation has had their challenge or fight. Our ancestors dealt with slavery, Jim Crow, and Civil Rights. Once we achieved a level of success in the civil rights movement, the perception of many Blacks was that we had arrived, or we were satisfied with where we were compared to where we had been. The leaders of the civil rights movement slowly passed away and there were not any leaders of significant influence left.
In the 80s and 90s our biggest challenges were drugs infiltrating our communities even though the majority of us didn’t own an airplane or boat. The next generation grew up in a crack, meth, and eventually prescription drug epidemic, all the while being incarcerated at astronomical rates compared to our white counterparts. Our parents and grandparents fought battles that eliminated segregation, ensured our voting rights, and narrowed the glass ceiling for pay and advancement. What we missed was the shift from slavery to mass incarceration and the effects it was having on our people. The battle of mass incarceration divided families, destroyed black economics as we once knew it, decreased household incomes, created conflict among us, and helped to destroy our educational system. All of those things we continue to battle today but make only small gains because we cannot come together to address these common issues that further divide us.
Conversations like this are currently taking place in many Black households across America, often resulting in division. Twenty percent of Black males are Trump supporters and meet resistance for their political views. This blog is to help those struggling to find ways to engage in productive conversations and unpack deeply rooted beliefs. Although we are different and don’t always agree, morals and values are similar and often the same among various religions and groups of people.
by Ronardo Reeves, Ed.D., Associate, CT3