Media outlets in North America have become experts at this.
A tragedy happens, amateur social media videos are lined up one after the other, professional “experts” give their paid opinions and reporters stand in locations they have never been, acting like they know what they are talking about.
Everyone is looking for answers, hoping that this will be as simple as the good guys versus the bad guys. It never is.
Like normal, people are trying to reduce complex issues to simplistic stereotypes. Right now there are loud voices proclaiming that the whole problem is either the police, the #BlackLivesMatter movement or Barack Obama. If it wasn’t so tragic, it would be funny.
The problem is systematic and multi-faceted, but at another level it is incredibly simple. In our worst moments we see people who are not like “us” as the enemy, and then when we over-react because of our fears, we give them the justification to see us as the enemy. This vicious cycle repeats, and repeats, and repeats.
We live in a world that is shaped both by the best of humanity, but also by the worst. The fact that white Western people enjoy a standard of living far beyond the global average is partly due to the Judeo-Christian values that created a culture that produced productivity, but it is also partly due to the oppression of people who are not white. Any cursory reading of history makes that unpalatable fact hard to deny.
Over the years we have started to acknowledge some of the worst forms of our oppression. We stopped racing to see which country could have the most colonies. We let our women vote. We let black people vote. We stopped stealing aboriginal children. All these things were good and necessary, however oppression still exists.
It is an uncomfortable truth, but it is the truth, that black people are economically and socially disadvantaged in an economy that is created and dominated by White, Anglo-Saxon, Protestant, Middle Aged Men. First Nations people are also disadvantaged, so are Latinos and so are Women. We might not like to hear it, but it is true.
We also live in a world where the gap between rich and poor is continuing to expand, so those who are disadvantaged are getting left behind further and further, not only economically but socially and politically as well.
This polarization produces social fragmentation, poverty and violence. The groups who are most commonly seen to be violent are pre-judged by those who have to engage with them, so there is always an “edge” in the communication… And sometimes the edge cuts.
If you wanted to truly make sure things would go badly, you could throw into this situation a simple availability of deadly firearms. In a world of “us” and “them”, it is easy to buy into the lie that having a bigger gun makes you safer… despite study after study showing the exact opposite.
While we all brace ourselves for another round of the N.R.A. trying to explain that “guns don’t kill people, people kill people,” we can only hope and pray that at some point people will start to catch on to the fact that there are vested economic and political forces behind messages like this that have no interest in making a safer world.
The problem ultimately isn’t the guns though, it is the lie that somehow violence can fix things. That somehow if we have a big enough act of violence then “they” will leave “us” alone. Martin Luther King quite rightly said:
King also said “We must live together as brothers or perish together as fools.” Nothing much is going to change until we can start to face some of the uncomfortable truth about where we have not loved as brothers.
If we truly want peace, we need to stop dividing the world into “us” and “them”.