Opinion: Take a stroll into a mine field with me
June 24, 2020
By writing today’s column, I am breaking a promise, one that I made to myself. I didn’t make myself take an oath aloud or sign anything. I suppose it was less a promise than a mental warning not to stroll into any mine fields.
The topic is difficult and highly charged, a tough one for any of us to deal with wisely and rationally and one where many folks seem to opt quickly for foolishness and irrationality. The best of writers could be easily misunderstood on this subject. I am nowhere near the best of writers.
Add to this the fact that loud folks who want to misunderstand in order to be louder and angrier almost always succeed.
But I hereby invite you along for a stroll into a mine field. I really hope we’re seeking understanding, respect, and peace. The Lord promises great blessing to peacemakers, but they can also expect flying shrapnel and subsequent wounding from both “sides.”
What, you might ask, could make a pandemic even less pleasant? And now we know: social and racial unrest.
I suspect that most of us also know that, enjoyable or not, “conversations” about tough issues like race and justice are discussions we need to be able to have and can be positive, if we really listen to each other.
But we did not need looting, burning, and rioting; it is wrong, weak, cowardly, criminal, and indefensible, and I am very sure that the vast majority of people of all races in our land are in agreement on that.
I think most of us, whatever our color, believe that what happened to George Floyd was abhorrent and wrong.
I think most of us believe that it’s a matter for tears that in our land any parent of any race should have to give their teenagers “the talk.” (The much earlier talk about sex is hard enough.)
I believe that I have a lot to learn about the challenges faced by my friends of other races and that trying to learn is worth some effort.
I believe that a lot of what we see as racial differences are also, and maybe on an even deeper level, economic differences. My own experience is that I have very little trouble at all talking to, respecting, understanding, and loving friends of different races who are similar to me (or “above” me) economically and educationally. Some of the folks I’m thinking of are among my dearest friends, and some are family members.
This does not absolve me from trying harder to understand folks from other races who are poorer economically and/or educationally. (In my experience, it’s every bit as hard for me to understand and communicate with “poor white” as it is “poor choose-a-color.”)
But we all need to try harder.
My own belief is that much of the unrest and hurt we see most obviously in some of our nation’s largest cities can be traced directly to seeds sown years ago when societally we ran to embrace the selfish and false “freedom” that resulted in massive numbers of fatherless families, illegitimacy, and the many bitter fruits of poverty.
And the pernicious result was exacerbated by failed social and economic policies that promise compassion and end up promulgating cruelty.
I also believe that you have every right to disagree with me. You have not only a Constitutional but God-given right to do so, a right that I should cherish and be willing to defend. And “free speech” is rapidly becoming an even larger part of the current “discussion.”
As free people we should be able to talk peacefully about our beliefs, even if they’re diametrically opposed, and whether or not they are in line with the latest opinion polls or the views of the media or the self-righteousness and virtue-signaling of the social and political right or left.
(Are those two qualities not easily recognizable by their smell as being of the same substance?)
I believe that any “culture” that would actively “cancel” speech and thought is a culture for cowards, brutes, and immature fools. How can we understand each other if we don’t listen to different views? And who will decide whose opinions expressed in speeches, books, movies, etc., are views that our evidently very delicate ears can handle?
As it happens, I found myself agreeing with and appreciating Jason L. Riley’s Wall Street Journal column. In “America Has a Silent Black Majority,” Riley (who is black) quotes Daniel Patrick Moynihan’s words in a 1970 memo to President Nixon that there “is a silent black majority as well as a white one” that “shares most of the concerns of its white counterpart.” Fifty years later, Riley says, this is still true.
“Most black people,” he writes, “know that George Floyd is no more representative of blacks than Derek Chauvin is of police officers. They know that the frequency of black encounters with law enforcement has more to do with black crime rates than with racially biased policing. They know that young black men have more to fear from their peers than from the cops. And they know that rioters are opportunists, not revolutionaries.”
Riley writes that, though there’s nothing wrong with a national conversation about better policing, “blaming law enforcement for social inequality” is “not only illogical but dangerous.” He goes on, “Unsafe neighborhoods retard upward mobility, and poorly policed neighborhoods are less safe.” And he closes, “A conversation that doesn’t acknowledge that reality is hardly worth having.”
I think he’s right on target. But maybe the even larger issue these days is how willing I am to acknowledge and defend your right to think otherwise. A lot of people have given their lives to help preserve our right to live in freedom. Freedom without free speech is not freedom.
The best and most loving, the strongest and gentlest, most truly wise and most completely peaceful Man of all died completely unjustly to bring all of us, of every race and nation, genuine freedom.
Curtis Shelburne writes about faith for The Eastern New Mexico News. Contact him at