Brett Barnett

Two weeks ago, I wrote about how younger Americans are upset with the political sphere and the structure of the country. That article can be found here. Since that article went live, things have become exponentially worse.

I was supposed to publish an article about the Trans-Pacific Partnership today, but that didn’t feel right. I thought I should write something that aligned with the times. I wondered what I should write about, or if my voice should even be heard at all. After all, I’m a white man who’s lived in the south for most of my life. I can’t begin to relate to what’s happening across the nation. But I knew a column discussing something as mundane and as seemingly trivial as the TPP shouldn’t be posted right now.

With all that said, I’m going to try to delicately traverse the ether that is understanding and supporting humankind. When George Floyd was killed by Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin, outrage was sparked across the country. We’ve seen this before, haven’t we? A black person killed at the hands of police; or what about all the instances of profiling against black people perpetrated by police or even by bystanders who decided to involve themselves? Anger rises, protests are organized, but eventually we return to “normalcy.” A “normal” that is experienced by both white America and black America. The only difference is that the latter group is disproportionately affected by discrimination based on skin color.

This time has been different. I think there are a number of reasons for that. Firstly, we’re in the middle of a health pandemic that has further exhibited the inequities between affluent communities and non-affluent communities, many of which contain a large population of minorities. Secondly, we’re dealing with a president who can’t seem to say the right thing in order to attempt to heal the nation. He only serves to further the divide, pandering to his base.

Granted, the murder of George Floyd has received the most bi-partisan response I’ve ever seen to the killing of a black man by police. But Donald Trump mostly decides to be a president of “law and order,” as he says, attempting to assuage any fears that his frightened, yet vocal, base on social media has; he’s doing everything in his power to quell protests — even going so far as to call in the military. He says things like how if the governors of states won’t eliminate violent protesting, then he will by calling the military into action. Arkansas governor Tom Cotton suggested that a military airborne division be used to silence the protestors.

How pertinent have the words of our founding fathers been recently? Alexander Hamilton said, “A nation which can prefer disgrace to danger is prepared for a master, and deserves one.” As long as Trump’s base prefers the disgraceful state of the nation, which has become present since the beginning of his presidency, to the danger they perceive as present when protesters are attempting to create real change regarding racial inequity, then he is the master they will have.

Those actions aren’t going to thwart protesters’ attempts to begin a movement. Responding to protests against use of force and discrimination by police with more use of force and discrimination by police won’t help anything. America is a country founded on riots and which subsists on violence. What we are seeing in the streets of Minneapolis, Washington, D.C., Los Angeles, and everywhere in between, is the American way. As I mentioned, many have become anxious with the activity which has been present in those cities. But Thomas Jefferson said, “Timid men prefer the calm of despotism to the tempestuous sea of liberty.” It must be said that nobody can have liberty until we all have liberty.

Nobody has to condone violent protests when accepting the reality that peaceful demonstrations haven’t worked. That should leave everyone with one question: What did you think was going to happen? When peaceful congregations, blocking the streets and taking a knee didn’t work, what other option was there? When Colin Kaepernick began kneeling during the National Anthem before NFL games to protest police brutality, and when other players around the league started to follow, what happened? They were told to “find another way” because “that’s not the right way to do it.” Well then, what is the right way to do it?

It’s not my place to condone or condemn anything that’s happening right now, and that’s not what I’m trying to do. I’m not the arbiter of what’s right and what’s wrong regarding the reactions to racial inequalities that certainly exist in America. It is my responsibility to prop up the voices of those adversely affected by discrimination in this country. It is my duty to listen to the voices who are speaking against racism who have actually experienced it. It is my obligation to try to understand because I will never be able to relate. That should be all of our jobs right now.

In 2016, Trump ran his presidential campaign using the slogan, “Make America Great Again.” Is this his version of “great”? Is this the reality his base envisioned? Let’s start by first making America great for the first time.

I wanted to close by linking to articles written by authors whose voices matter much more than mine during this time: this article by the staff at the sports website The Athletic about their racial encounters. Or this article written at Christianity Today about George Floyd’s legacy in Houston. Or this list of anti-racism books. Or when Ibram X. Kendi explained the protests and “America’s nightmare.” Or this article in The Atlantic which speaks about the double standard of protests in America.

Finally, I wanted to include links to keep up to date with the protests in the aftermath of George Floyd’s murder: The Washington Post, CNN, the Associated Press and NPR.

We the People, all of us, just as the Constitution sets forth. If we are said to have access to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness for all, then it’s time the nation starts acting like it.

Brett Barnett is a senior majoring in English. He can be reached at bbarne18@vols.utk.edu.

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