Injustice, protest, conversation, and change

I believe the greatest changes to come out of times of protest are those found within the conversations we hold in their wake.

Conversations about what is wrong in society and what we can do to end injustices faced today so that future generations will never have to endure them.

In light of George Floyd’s tragic death, and the protests held in response for him and countless others, today’s conversation is about racism and police brutality faced by Black members of our communities.

It’s important to acknowledge the awareness brought to these injustices by protesters. The scale of the conversation we’re now having has only been made possible through them.

And when these protests are peaceful, they establish this conversation in a powerful way.

When people of all walks of life stand together in solidarity against racism and police brutality, when discussions take place about why these injustices continue to occur, and when people recognize the validity of the grievances being protested – society can be changed for the better.

The power of that message is lost, however, when peaceful protests become violent and the conversation turns from constructive criticisms of society to destructive scenes of shattered glass along streets, cars set on fire, and buildings looted.

That is the message we’re often presented when violence makes primetime television and headlines over peaceful protest.

But such violence should not define a movement in which so many more are lending their voices peacefully – in Boston and throughout the rest of the country – all advocating for change and reform of the systems of injustice they see and endure in society.

The Boston Protest held last Sunday was peaceful.

Constructive conversations took place, ideas were shared, and a spirit of solidarity against systems of injustice that have lasted too long was clear.

What happened afterwards should not distract from that.

The message sent by violence and destruction will not change the views and attitudes of those who do not acknowledge the severity of the injustices being protested.

Because their attention is not drawn toward these injustices by that violence, it is instead deflected by the destruction of their cities.

The most powerful message is sent by those who continue to rise above violence, exemplified by the peaceful protesters in Boston last week and by the marchers along the steps of the Lincoln Memorial in 1963. It is this message that we should focus on at this moment, and it is this message that will lead us toward true change.

That is not just my belief – it is the belief of George Floyd’s brother, Terrence, who pleaded for peaceful protest and justice in a speech given at the site of his brother’s killing.

True change will not be made with our fists, but by our voices.

And every single person has a voice.

Terrence Floyd encouraged change through the voices of many, and our ability to vote for new leaders who will take action against the injustice his brother and countless others have faced because of unaddressed racism and police brutality.

And as individuals, we can each encourage change ourselves by continuing the conversation started by peaceful protestors. 

By continuing to recognize injustices that are not being addressed and ultimately, by striving to help others see the wrongs we see in society.

It’s easy to distance yourself from those you know who are indifferent toward racism and police brutality, or from those who hold insensitive, or even bigoted views. It’s easy to unfriend them, unfollow them, and remove them from your life. But doing so will not change them.

It will not make them come to terms with how wrong it is that racism and police brutality still exists today. It will not help them realize that they are contributing to the problem. 

If we ultimately want to overcome these injustices, to a point where they will never again occur, then the conversation must ultimately be brought to them.

Because so long as indifference, insensitivity, and bigotry exist, so will injustice.

But conversations should not be rooted in spite. They should not be used to attack and deride, which may only succeed in sending the indifferent, the insensitive and the bigoted further down the rabbit hole of racism as they respond with an emboldened defense of their views.

Our conversations with them should instead be rooted in the understanding that these views can be changed.

That people can change.

Our conversations can allow them to recognize the wrongs in society and lead them to change both in mind and in heart so that systems of injustice can truly be ended.

In that view, I’m inspired by Daryl Davis, a Black musician who attends rallies of the Ku Klux Klan.

He does not attend these rallies to fight its members or shame them for their racist ideology, but to have conversations with them, to find where their hatred originates and to help them realize for themselves the wrongness of the ideology they hold.

Davis has directly convinced over 40 members of the Klan – from its rank and file to state and even national leaders – to throw down their robes and denounce the racist ideology they were raised to believe.

All through conversation.

Yes, it is difficult to have these conversations. It is difficult to be patient with those who hold beliefs that are wrong to us.

It is difficult to make peace.

But by keeping the conversation going, by sharing our ideas and ideals with our relatives, friends and others we know who are not yet convinced of them, by getting them to eventually recognize the wrongness of unaddressed racism and police brutality, we too can make a difference.

Because society will only truly change when people change.

And through conversation, we all have the power to create that change.

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