“We’re not trying to start a race war … we’re trying to end one.” — Sign held by protester
Conscience is defined as an inner feeling or voice acting as a guide to the rightness or wrongness of one’s behavior. It’s self-awareness but also awareness of the world around us and, for many, a desire to right society’s wrongs.
There are movements of conscience taking place in America today: equal rights for women, LGBTQ rights, protecting the environment and gun safety. But front and center right now are the widespread protests over police violence against people of color triggered after George Floyd was killed by a Minneapolis officer who is now charged with second degree murder.
The protests are rooted in the civil rights movement that began during the post-war years when a young minister from Atlanta named Martin Luther King Jr. began a campaign against segregation that led to violence against peaceful protesters throughout the south. The televised images of police viciously attacking demonstrators appalled many Americans and eventually led to the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act a year later.
These improved the lives of black people, but there was more turmoil to come in the late 1960s as segregationists fought back and police violence against minorities led to riots in major cities across the U.S.
Some of us thought we’d moved into a post-racial era with the election of Barack Obama as president, a time of understanding and unity, but we soon learned we were wrong.
The deep-seated white resentment over a black president boiled over within weeks of Obama taking office. Donald Trump took notice and formed a political base out of the anger. In the last three and a half years, Trump has stoked racial division and hostility at every turn.
Then George Floyd was killed and Black and brown outrage finally erupted.
What we are witnessing today is a seismic shift, a revolution if you like, in which minorities and their allies are saying we’re mad as hell and we’re not going to take it anymore.
“As widespread protests against police brutality and systemic racism push into a fourth week around the country, Trump’s response has laid bare the depth of the country’s racist legacy and added urgency to calls for a wider national reckoning,” Time reported last week. “Sixty percent of white Americans and 82% of black Americans think Trump has made the country more divided, according to a poll released Wednesday by The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research. The percentage of white Americans who disagree with Trump’s handling of race relations has increased from 55% in 2019 to 62% in 2020, the poll found.”
It’s true lawbreakers used the protests as cover to loot, destroy property and attack police, which many African-American leaders have roundly condemned, including Obama and civil rights legend U.S. Rep. John Lewis of Georgia But the response in other places to peaceful demonstrations against police brutality was more police brutality, which only serves to make the protesters’ point and assure more and larger protests.
The revolution we’re watching unfold is spreading awareness of America’s 400-year history of whites brutalizing minority and indigenous people.
Africans were brought to the Americas against their will, enslaved and treated as chattel, worked to death and subjected to family separation and the violent whims of their owners. Then Jim Crow, the KKK and lynchings.
Native Americans were robbed of their lands, displaced and often slaughtered.
Without due process, loyal Japanese Americans had their property confiscated and were thrown into concentration camps at the start of World War II purely on the basis of race.
The reckoning is long overdue and much of white America appears to understand that.
Confederate monuments, silent testaments to white supremacy and black subjugation, are coming down. The stars and bars are banned at NASCAR events. Brands featuring stereotypes like Aunt Jemima and Uncle Ben are being replaced. Corporate America is reassessing its lack of diversity and taking action.
Oblivious, Trump continued to beat the racial divisiveness drum at his disastrously underattended Tulsa rally last Saturday when he declared that “radical Democrats” are erasing symbols of “our heritage.”
What conservatives like to call “politically correct” is in fact a refusal to acknowledge that movements of conscience are driven by sincere convictions anchored in reality. In the case of the police brutality protests, rational Americans are engaging and adding their voices to the calls for societal change.
Policing reform is badly needed, but all the president and his supporters have offered are watered down proposals and “whataboutisms,” as in, what about the crime of Black-on-Black violence. It’s a straw man argument that ignores the fact police are sworn to uphold the law and to protect and serve all communities.
Movements of conscience are antithetical to conservatism, which is why we hear so much pushback from Republicans and their media mouthpieces; conscience must be crushed if conservatism is to succeed.