Brett Hart, the new President of United Airlines, opened up to employees during a recent town hall on the topic of race. His words direct us toward an uncomfortable reality.
Hart, a black man, shared his thoughts on race and the recent death of George Floyd in a recording obtained by Live and Let’s Fly:
“I have to believe everyone on this town hall has been affected by George Floyd. Over the course of the last week, I’ve had a range of emotions. Anger, sadness and fear. My wife and I are fortunate to have three sons, and this world views them differently. In a few years, we will release them into the larger world. Having to have these conversations with your boys each time is like reaching out and snatching a bit of their youth.”
“The conversation”…what a sad testament to reality in the United States. It is a conversation that I will never have to have with my own son, a conversation that no father should have to have with his son. Indeed, the conversation does rob children of their youth and exposes an uncomfortable yet undeniable reality that continues from generation to generation.
I’m talking about how to deal with the police.
Here’s the issue. I know so many law enforcement officials in Los Angeles and across the USA. Some are clients, some are friends. They are all decent men and women. All of them. They seek justice and work hard to protect the lives of those they have been entrusted to serve.
And yet we know there are a few bad apples. Yes, just a few. Cops as an entity are not the enemy. If anything, the last few days has highlighted tremendous restraint and respect in so many cities across the nation.
But even one bad apple is one bad apple too many. Like pilots, there is no room for error. There cannot be. Not when lives are on the line.
Sadly, though statistically small, there are far too many bad apples. And since you never know when you will run into one, black fathers have to warn their black sons to exercise extreme caution in tone, speech, and movements should they ever be pulled over by a police officer.
The police in Compton don’t give bout no protest pic.twitter.com/FmnOYu8XVh
— Lil Martin (@Reallilmartin) June 1, 2020
I’ve been pulled over twice in my life. Honestly, I was shaking both times because I too was afraid of what might happen if the cop was trigger-happy. Imagine those who are in much greater inherent danger because of the color of their skin. Diversity can foster fear and fear can precipitate bad choices. Deadly choices. We must do a better job, myself included, of grappling with our differnces and seeking mutual respect and an environment in which all can flourish.
It sounds so trite, but I do have many black friends. And for them I am truly afraid. These are well-educated, well-spoken, well-dressed, middle to upper middle class folks. Pastors, professors, lawyers, and officers. One particular friend has two boys who recently joined the military. I pray they will not experience the sort of prejudice I observed while in the military. I pray they will never be pulled over by a cop one night and find their lives suddenly ended.
What about the far more vulnerable? Those without money or eduction or any sort of societal status. Who will speak for them?
I hate the term white guilt, generally thrown as a pejorative toward people struggling through issues of race. I’m not guilty. But I am privileged by the nature of my skin color and increasingly recognize it. The sort of default deference I receive is not something others enjoy…travel has opened my eyes to this reality.
“We have to learn how to talk to one another and then listen. We believe the culture of United and the United community is strong enough for this. We can drop our body armor and have a conversation. We know that you will listen and listen without judgement.”
That’s how we start. We must do a better job of listening to one another rather than putting up blinders. Hart has a big heart and I feel pain for the conversations he had to have with his boys. We all should.
Friends, all lives matter…but let us not forget that using that term implies that all lives are equally at risk. They are not. And so today, I do say black lives matter. There is a specific problem occurring in the black community that is not happening in other communities on nearly the same level. This observation should not be divisive, but a wake-up call for all of us.
It is my duty to love my neighbor. That includes understanding. Without that foundation of trust, there can be no other conversations.