I’ve followed the chain of letters to the editor in the Tri-City Times over the past few weeks between locals Miriam Marcus and David Naeyaert regarding the nature of racism here in Michigan.
The two have thrown around a few points about racism, seemingly in disagreement about all of them. If I were to give my two cents for each point raised, I’m afraid I’d fall into rabbit holes whose ink would consume much of these pages. Suffice it to say that I lean more toward Ms. Marcus’s position insofar in that racism, including the inherent sort, is real to some extent and worthy of discussion and some measure of corrective action.
It follows that Mr. Naeyaert will find this letter to be more directed toward him.
I might add some historical context to the Confederate flag argument, which I came across with research of my own. The flag actually died out following the end of the Civil War and was reportedly hard to come by in the South for decades after. What actually prompted its revival was Southern opposition in the ’50s toward calls for civil rights, during which it became a rallying banner against the integration of schools. Georgia actually adopted it as part of its state flag for the remainder of the century, statedly in part as a defiant stand for segregation.
I’m sure Mr. Naeyaert sees the flag purely as a symbol of rebellion, as I’m sure many others do. I’m also positive that many people still use it as a badge of hate; both the beauty and trickiness of symbols is that they can mean different things to different people. I’m not even one to judge whether layers of time and geocultural difference can fully alter how a symbol is widely received. With this in mind, I find myself sympathizing with Mr. Naeyaert’s assertion that one should not read too closely into those who wave the Confederate flag, even though this isn’t really my cup of tea. But, especially with such a dark history that it carries, he should know why many people do indiscriminately view such displays with disdain, and will continue to do so.
I am curious about the underpinnings of Mr. Naeyaert’s belief that the “so-called protests” are “shields for riots.” True, as protests have swelled throughout this nation in the name of racial justice and equality, numbers of bad actors have emerged to wreak havoc on the streets and unjustly terrorize local businesses and residents, including in Michigan.
What I glean from his statement, though— and I invite him to correct me—is that he believes at least a majority of the people “protesting” in these demonstrations, even peacefully, have ulterior motives of property destruction and civil unrest. I also find a parallel assumption that, if there is no stark difference between seemingly peaceful protesters by day and hooligans by night, then there is at best a tiny minority among the hordes of marchers who have legitimate grievances about racial injustice and are out there with good intentions in both message and discipline. This is something I personally cannot wrap my mind around.
I cannot argue with “beliefs,” they being something inherently subjective within all of our hearts; gut feelings rarely have logic to back them up. But, given that 1) this is a rather hot, complex, and yet already well-covered issue for our times, whose angles beg for the utmost clarity; 2) this is an opinion that Mr. Naeyaert feels worthy of airing to the public; and 3) I am wholly unable to square what “facts” I’ve read about these protests with how he construes them, I humbly ask him to continue this burdensome dance of letters in order for me, and perhaps others, to understand his views more fully.
Also, whether such protests are “shoving an idea down our throats” depends on how you receive them, I guess. His criticism toward Ms. Marcus’s delivery of her ideas aside, if I could shift the frame of the argument slightly, I’d say that these demonstrations are moreso bringing a purported phenomenon to the forefront that individuals either believe is real and legitimate, or don’t. I might also add that mass protests are what have historically been required to push through some dramatic changes in our society for the better. As the late civil rights icon Rep. John Lewis famously said: “Never, ever be afraid to make some noise and get in good trouble, necessary trouble.”
Surely Mr. Naeyaert bristles at the thought of the government telling its citizens how to think, and I’m certain that we all do, but his characterization of state-mandated implicit bias training as akin to Cold War-era “re-education camps” seems an exaggeration. Many workplace hiring processes already train employees to spot and stamp out sexual harassment, which in terms of social acceptability seems on par with training against racial bias.
On whether the governor had to declare a public health crisis to address racism, I can kind of see Mr. Naeyaert’s scorn. Such a move seems at least slightly made to score political points, a bit of a stretch as far as rulemaking norms go; containing more idealism than what normally fits within the frame of policy.
That said, I would say that it is something of a movement in the right direction. Historical racist policies and practices, especially urban housing segregation, have done much to create the still-highly segregated neighborhoods that make up many Michigan cities today. Many studies have linked this to ongoing inequality in many areas of life, including health and access to healthcare. It seems only proper for the state to develop some sort of well-thought attempt at equity to right this historic wrong. (Although, however, many of these discriminatory policies originated from the federal government).
Whether it is our duty as a modern citizenry to shell out our tax dollars to help realize this ideal, however, is another can of worms altogether that I’m not keen to open at the moment.
Finally, I would like to slightly transform Mr. Naeyaert’s parting words in his previous letter and state my belief that, just by having this conversation—indeed, having civil public discourse everywhere about the pressing issues of the day—the sun shines a little brighter on all of us. This is what democracy is.
Contact Andrew at email@example.com.