Almost exactly one year ago I was at a civil rights forum at Elgin Community College where we heard from experts from the FBI, the ACLU, and the Illinois Coalition on Immigrant and Refugee Rights and discussed how we as a community can secure civil rights for all in the coming years.
Reflecting on the past 12 months, one take away I have is that this is going to be much harder than I ever imagined. I’m stunned by the number of people around me that I care about and work with regularly who support politicians and policies that are antithetical to civil rights.
It’s easy to write off people we don’t know personally as racist or bigoted when they say or do things that make us cringe. The folks that cause me the greatest heart ache are those whose outlooks and perceptions support racist or bigoted policies and who are close to me personally. I can’t bring myself to see them as racist or bigoted, but their views can sometimes be extremely ugly.
I don’t talk about politics with these folks. We talk about sports, fitness, football, and wrestling. We’ve avoided any conversations about the whole kneeling during the anthem protests in the NFL. For the most part these folks are not on social media with me, and so they don’t see or hear my political opinions. But from time to time comments are made that give me clear indications of where they stand on the issues of the day. Their opinions are shaped by perspectives and information that I see as grossly inaccurate and sometimes downright wrong.
I need to find a way to bring them other perspectives in ways that make it hard for them to demonize these other points of view.
I think I’ve been pretty good about doing my part to promote civil rights vis-a-vis public speaking and writing in my own small way. I think the challenge going forward, however, is getting out of my comfort zone and educating those around me with information that is accurate even if it challenges their notions of what is right and wrong; and I need to do it in way that does not destroy the underlying relationship.