The following two blog posts by The Heinz Endowment President and CEP Board Chair Grant Oliphant originally appeared on The Heinz Endowments blog in the past 24 hours.
More shootings of black men at the hands of police, this time in Baton Rouge and Minneapolis. Words rarely fail me, but they have failed me today. There is so much to be said, but every time I try to speak about it, to draw a coherent thought from the jumbled welter of my feelings, all that emerges is a plea: “Enough. Stop it. No more.”
But I am not entitled to my silence. None of us are, not now, not in the face of this.
In my view of the field and institution I am privileged to serve, we have a special responsibility in our work and in our roles sometimes simply to bear witness. In our society there are so many marginalized, forgotten, neglected people, and we seem to be minting more every day. There are so many people our society chooses to oppress or aggress or simply ignore, and we make it tolerable for ourselves by turning those whose pain we’d prefer not to see into someone “other,” something “other.”
Here in Pittsburgh efforts by our police chief to adopt community policing techniques and train officers in implicit bias have been ridiculed by some as “hug a thug.” Think about the words. Please, just think about the words. In one terse little phrase they criminalize anyone the police encounter and make them less than the rest of us, less than human, an enemy deserving of whatever happens to them.
There is a cancer eating our country from the inside out, and it is precisely this: this dehumanizing of the “other,” this violent hatred for what is different. This willful decision not to care. It rips at our hearts and turns us against each other. It makes the unthinkable normal, the unacceptable routine.
To quiet our conscience, we make monsters of people who are in their souls no different than us, and the price we pay is to become the monsters we most fear.
Why do we have to say #BlackLivesMatter? Seriously? Because apparently we have forgotten that in this country, if we ever knew it. Because apparently it needs to be said out loud, loudly and forcefully enough for the shootings to stop and the otherizing to stop.
That’s all I have to offer right now, in the midst of stupefying sadness — to bear witness to the pain and anguish of those who must live in fear because of the color of their skin. Or, on other days marked by other videos and other tragedies, because of who they love, or the God they worship, or the money they don’t have.
This is what I have to give: To say on behalf of our institution, yes, yes, we see it. We see it and it is not OK. To say, we will do our part. To protest, along with you, “Enough, stop it, no more.”
Only hours after posting the blog entry above, horrifying events unfolded in Dallas, Texas with the shootings of police officers. “Enough, no more” is more relevant than ever.
One day later and the anguished cry, “Enough, no more” feels more horrifyingly relevant than ever. Now is a moment that tests us as a people and as communities. Now is a moment that calls us to prove who we really are, what we really stand for, what type of world we really want to create for our children.
Our hearts break today, just as they broke the day before. But it is not enough for our hearts to bleed, or our chests to swell in righteous anger. It is a time for mourning, but it is not enough for us to mourn, let alone mourn only those victims we most identify with.
We are called — by everything our diverse faiths teach us, by everything we believe about ourselves and our country — to come together as one people, whether we bravely wear the blue or have come to fear those who do. We are called by all that is good in our hearts to see ourselves in all the fallen, all the lives lost, all the families grieving, all the communities struggling to make sense of their brokenness.
We are better than this violence. Deep down in our souls we know this. We are so, so much better than this.
But only through our effort can that be true. Only through our effort can we deliver on the promise of the better angels inside of us.
My friend Candi Castleberry Singleton, founder of the Dignity & Respect Campaign, last night in her sadness wrote on Facebook precisely what must happen next: “We must come together as police and communities — people of all ethnic backgrounds, and all ages, and all faiths…and you and me. We must come together as humans…We must come together as Americans.”
It is just that: We must come together now. In an hour of terrible division, across all our differences and all the ways we label each other, we must have the courage to see ourselves as one, to meet as one, to be one — to hear each other, respect each other, learn from each other.
Violence will not free us; it will only ruin us, breeding only more of itself. The great Irish poet Seamus Heaney, whose brave work spoke heartbreaking truths amid the endless cycles of murder and revenge in Northern Ireland, urged his readers in one famous poem to “Hope for a great sea-change/On the far side of revenge./ Believe that further shore/ is reachable from here.” He wrote:
“History says, don’t hope
On this side of the grave.
But then, once in a lifetime
The longed-for tidal wave
Of justice can rise up,
And hope and history rhyme.”
Let us send up our prayers. Let us grieve and mourn, feel what we feel, console ourselves and one another. But above all let us remember this:
We can be that tidal wave that carries us to the far side of all that tears us apart. We can be that rhyme. We can bring that hope to our children, not later, not one day, but now, on this side of the grave.
That is our test. That is our moment. And there is one way, and only one way, we can succeed: together.
Grant Oliphant is president of The Heinz Endowments and chair of the CEP Board. Follow him on Twitter at @go_grant.
Photo: Tony Webster.