In these United States of America, every voluntary immigrant population has overcome significant challenges to fare well as a group within the dominant culture. That is not true of involuntary minorities—Native Americans subjugated through war and policies of extermination and black Americans, descended from slaves—who continue to suffer injustices and discrimination both subtle and overt. The results are often tragic, and they without fail reveal the fault lines in our attitudes about race and class.
Which is why we undertook “Why Donald Morton Is Ticked Off” by Michael Bradley. Morton is among those at the center of the Black Lives Matter movement here. BLM grew out of recent incidents of police violence against black men and boys, but the reasons for that violence are old and deep. We can’t be naive about true hatred. It exists. And though it may be convenient for those who are sympathetic to the plights of various groups to blame “the system” for the unfair treatment of African Americans and other minorities, no matter how well deserved that blame may be, we must also examine ourselves.
I sought out the Rev. Dr. Morton about two years ago while working on a story about firearm violence in Wilmington. (His church sits in the heart of the city’s most troubled neighborhood.) After a long discussion about the situation, he gave me some parting advice on the reporting: “Your challenge is to be ontologically black.”
I took Morton to mean that, to understand injustice and the effects of violence, systemic and personal, I needed to truly imagine the experience of being an African-American. As a thought experiment and as a practical exercise, the attempt was useful, but I must say I failed. I simply could not imagine, for example, the stress of fearing for my life while walking to the corner store simply because I lived in a neighborhood known for violence—a neighborhood shaped less by those who call it home than by greater economic forces and other factors—though I know certainly that many do feel that stress acutely every day. Even expanding the focus to what might be the experience of a middle-class African-American, an experience more like my own, proved frustrating. What must it feel like to walk into the conference room knowing that some coworkers might not take my recommendations or observations as seriously as they were intended? To be part of the only black family on the block? To get pulled over by police for driving a nice car with my hoodie up, though I was driving to church after work to mentor a young friend—to get pulled over, in other words, for driving while black?
Truth be told, I couldn’t even anticipate the kinds of feelings and situations I should have been trying to understand—beyond a great frustration at the slow pace of positive change. It may seem a small thing, but such a failure of imagination hampers our empathy and prevents us from creating a wholly compassionate society.
We can’t examine our values or attitudes in a vacuum, so I hope you’ll be mindful of what Morton has to say. We can’t shy away from the harsher facts or realities of race and class. They may make everyone uncomfortable, and that’s OK. It is a good step toward mutual understanding, which is our best hope for creating a truly just society.
Correction: In the Top Lawyers feature in November, the Intellectual Property Law category on page 92 was incorrectly listed as “Property Law.” Delaware Today regrets the error.