As Robert F Kennedy said when he spoke to a crowd predominately of people of color the day Martin Luther King was killed April 4, 1968:
We can move in that direction as a country, in greater polarization — black people amongst blacks, and white amongst whites, filled with hatred toward one another. Or we can make an effort, as Martin Luther King did, to understand, and to comprehend, and replace that violence, that stain of bloodshed that has spread across our land, with an effort to understand, compassion, and love.
He was asking the country to embrace nonviolence. Unfortunately in many ways the country choose to move in the direction of greater polarization, instead. And not just between white people and people of color, but with other divisions as well–economic, cultural, and political.
The tragic events in Charlottesville are the most recent example of polarization and the public eruption of violence. Fortunately thousands have gone into the streets to peacefully express their opposition to hate and nationalism.
Demonstrations such as those are welcome and important but may or may not have truly been expressions of nonviolence, depending on how they were done. While being peaceful is not violent, if the intention is not to aid in understanding and helping everyone move toward justice, they are not actively nonviolent. If the counter demonstrators act hatefully toward the nationalists, that is not nonviolence.
Trying to overwhelm the white nationalists with sheer numbers does not get at the underlying issues. Far too often we react to the symptoms, but don’t deal with the underlying causes. What is really needed is the very difficult work of understanding what causes people to become nationalists. We have to find out what that is, then we will know what needs to be done to take away those conditions that result in hate and conflict.
One way to keep this in mind is to use a sense of wonder, as in, “I wonder why they think that? I wonder why they are acting that way?” And the corollary, “I wonder why I think or feel this?” (Taken from the AFSC Quaker Social Change Ministry material)
We need to help our friends and allies focus on understanding underlying causes so we can achieve peace and justice. To embrace nonviolence in our own lives and teach nonviolence to others. I hope you will consider initiating conversations, classes and training sessions about nonviolence yourself. The easiest and most effective way is to create situations where others are given opportunities to express themselves. Showing genuine interest and listening deeply to each other. Expressing your own doubts and questions, being vulnerable. Believing you can learn something from someone else.
This is how we can begin to reverse polarization.
–apologies to electrical engineers 🙂