Mary Lou and I so enjoy living in the small town of Pima, Ariz., population 3,300. And we enjoy living here despite the fact that something strange happened.
On July 4, Mary Lou and I posted a sign in front of our house reading "Black Lives Matter." And on July 5, when I went out to collect our Sunday paper, I found that someone had spray painted out the word "Black." This was strange because things like vandalism are infrequent here.
While we agree with the person who did the spraying that all lives matter very much, I’m afraid he (I’m using the male pronoun for convenience only) missed the point that while all minorities are in need of the thoughtful consideration whites enjoy, recent stories on the national news indicate this is not true for blacks in particular. Blacks’ mistreatment in this country began in 1619 when slavery appeared, continued through the agencies of poverty and disenfranchisement after their emancipation in 1863, poverty that cast them into a second-class citizenship that continues in many forms today. And all this despite the fact that the Constitution declares all men are created equal.
Black men's lives improved in 1866 when Congress passed laws ensuring their right to vote. The bill became law, however, only after Congress voted to override President Andrew Johnson’s veto.
Another example of their second-class citizenship is the apparently widespread anti-black feeling in police forces across the U.S. as evidenced in the long and growing number of black men and women killed by them.
That said, a general understanding of blacks’ and other minorities’ plights requires our developing a broader understanding of behaviors visited by us, intentionally or unintentionally, on minorities generally and not just blacks in particular. And this is true regardless of whether minorities are defined racially, economically or on the basis of national origin.
I believe that a first step in our gaining such understandings is increasing our interactions with and understandings of people from different backgrounds. This doesn’t require you to have a best friend who is black or befriend a Hispanic, Asian or Native American family, because friendships simply can’t be mandated. It does, however, mean our learning more about minority groups through joining them in activities like, for example, lunch after church on Sunday (when churches, synagogues, and mosques begin reopening), or greeting strangers at the grocery or gas station, and ensuring our kids seek out friendships with children different from them at school.
And for goodness sake, Mr. Graffiti Artist, do not wantonly deface signs. Instead, stop and ask questions and engage in discussions with those responsible for the signs. Why? Because in your case, Mary Lou and I would enjoy ensuring you we agree that everyone’s life is as important as you do, and that our focus on blacks’ lives is in response to recent news reporting injustices visited on blacks in particular. Thus, sir, you’d have learned we wish to assure you that your personal concerns are important to us here in Pima. But because that didn’t happen, your efforts were and remain common graffiti.
Hank Slotnick is a retired UND professor who, with his wife, winters in Pima, Ariz., and summers in Debs.