You kneeled, so what’s next?

Caught your attention, huh? I know, headlines…

It started with Colin Kaepernick taking a knee. Who would have thought it would ever get to this point? With so many opinions floating around, the last thing that’s probably needed is one more. And I do have an opinion, but more than that, I want to offer up a question: What’s next? What is being fought for?

First, it was police brutality. This was Kaepernick’s platform and it was sort of clear what he was protesting. But it quickly became muddled with his other outspoken political stances, to the point that many felt Kaepernick was just anti-American.

Then, the protests shifted focus to white supremacists or systematic racism. The two have been mentioned in tandem so much, I’m not even sure where it started or what the priority is anymore. It seems to get combined, because as I understand it, we’re all systematically racist which makes us all white supremacists.

Now, the latest protest started with President Trump. I understand people don’t like Trump, and the assumption by many is that he is a white supremacist, but with Trump’s actions and responses kicking off this latest round of protests, it seems more like a Trump protest versus a police brutality or systematic racism protest.

This is what you call a moving target. The moment you feel you’ve wrapped your mind around the complaint, the conversation morphs and changes. Especially for those not plugged into the day-to-day dialogue, who form opinions in their mind and are ready to discuss… only to be blindsided when more issues rise to the surface. This leads to many just closing their eyes and covering their ears hoping it will all go away. I agree it’s a child-like response, like when a child is tired and weepy and won’t listen to their parent’s correction.

So on one hand, the protesters view everyone else as that first child. But on the other hand, those on the receiving end of the protests feel like a child acting out because their parents are fighting for the third time this week, and they’re not emotionally equipped to handle it.

Along with a moving target, you have the guise of “awareness.” Everyone wants to raise awareness, but then we don’t see much in the way of action following said increased awareness. Awareness is a tricky thing. On the surface it sounds good, it sounds like you’re doing something. But in reality, awareness doesn’t move the ball down the court. Awareness shirks your responsibility and puts the action on someone else’s shoulders. And that’s a major issue, especially with something like racism. This feels like that time you didn’t understand the math problem, but the teacher stands over your desk waiting and watching you try and solve it. You’re paralyzed, you feel flush, and even if you did know the answer, you surely aren’t coming up with it now.

Just my opinion here, but to me this seems less about awareness and more about searching for “agreeness.” Awareness is defined as:

knowledge or perception of a situation or fact (link)

It seems this movement focuses on wanting the same perception without clearly stating the issue. This got me thinking, what are the steps of problem solving? Good old Google helped me out and I found this problem solving model:

  1. Identify the issues.
  2. Understand everyone’s interests.
  3. List the possible solutions (options).
  4. Evaluate the options.
  5. Select an option or options.
  6. Document the agreement(s).
  7. Agree on contingencies, monitoring, and evaluation.

By being stuck on raising awareness, we never even clearly identify the issues. That brings it back to the different types of protests and the question… what really is the issue? Because I still don’t know. I think many would say the problem is police brutality. But as you dig deep into these issues, it’s clear many have a fundamental misunderstanding of what the job of policeman entails (see #2). I think a larger segment would say it is systematic racism. So, what is that? Identify exactly what that looks like. Because words like systematic racism are big words and problems cannot be solved by just naming them.

If you asked ten people what systematic racism was, you’d get ten different answers. The individual elements of this need to be split into separate problems, separate solutions, and go from there. And I think that’s the ultimate point: we want this solved yesterday, but who has taken the time to organize these platforms? It seems everyone expects someone else to do it and here we are still at the beginning stages of step one in a seven step problem solving model. This isn’t saying these answers are wrong, they’re just not refined or clear. This lack of clarity creates the negative reactions we see. It’s abstract, not concrete, and just creates anxiety for all.

If you jump ahead, I think it’s clear #2 is a problem as well. The protests are focused on everyone understanding their issue, but not on understanding anyone else’s issue. The protesters are so focused on their issue, there has been no thought about how others might perceive their interests being threatened. It’d be easy to have a negative reaction to the statements I just made, but let’s cool the jets for a minute.

This isn’t meant to be a lecture about how the issues aren’t valid, or how we all need to “just take our time.” It’s about tone. The general feeling with racial justice is that change has been a long time coming so why wait even longer. I get and understand that feeling. This isn’t about waiting, but examining the tone and truly asking yourself the question: is the approach of this movement intentionally self-inflicting division to prove that the others are as evil as you’ve made them to be?

I’m not suggesting this is how everyone thinks, but I do think it’s thought by a few that have stealthily infected the larger movement. It’s the thief in the night. It infects slowly and tears apart and creates unnecessary divisions.

So let’s go back… what’s next? I’m not asking this out of arrogance, out of privilege, or any other label you want to put on me. I’ll accept your labels if it gets to the answer. What’s next isn’t a “told ya so,” but a truly humble cry that we bring some semblance of reason and order to this.

Because, real talk, the longer it goes on like it is today, the more damage will be inflicted by those who intend it and the more divided we’ll become. Mark Cuban had the right idea and we need to extend this conversation past this festering wound we’ve refused to treat. This isn’t a gotcha, or arrogance, or a declaration of who’s right, but a call to unity in identifying the issues and walking together to solve them.

So… what’s next?