Commentary: Better ways for us to move ahead than violence, radicalism

By Ethan Lang

In 2020, I am afraid.

Not of my fellow Americans, white, black, civilian or cop. Not of the crushing, white hand of oppression. Not of the police.

But there is a real and insidious influence on American society. I fear the prevalence of radicals and divisive racial politics that threaten to tear apart the country that I love.

I feel like a man whose parents bridged the racial gap, and as an active community member and someone who comes from working-class roots to be the first from my high school in a generation to make it to the Ivy League, I thought it was time to speak on an issue that is troubling me.

Make no mistake: I agree with the sentiment of the protesters, utterly and without reservation. When I saw the footage of the cop in the act of murdering George Floyd – a fellow human being, for God’s sake – I prayed we would see justice. And we will see justice for what was done to him.

The system should be challenged. To challenge existing systems and the status quo are the essence of what it means to be an American. But the way that some in the movement have devolved and degraded the message can be nothing but condemned.

I am disgusted and ashamed by those who would claim to carry on the dream of Martin Luther King Jr. yet dare invoke his name as they ransack their communities as opportunists and thieves. The silent moderates who are watching, now do so in horror as businesses burn and communities cook under the pressure of riots and raiding. That is no way to garner support for a movement.

Furthermore, it does not help that many of the protesters, or, to be precise, “outside organizers,” have adopted Marxist ideology when accessing the racial issues that persist in America. Marxist logic requires that the “tribe” be the primary identifier. But it is precisely this thought process that causes such violence and vitriol among Americans.

We are individuals first, and Americans second. But when you let race become your destiny, you risk becoming what you sought to destroy. Marxist collectivism is a poison that has destroyed the peace and prosperity of every country it has ever touched because it aims to divide us into groups. When race becomes your primary identifier, it becomes much easier to attribute racial guilt and attack those who aren’t “you.”

White Americans are not responsible for their ancestors’ actions, no more than the vast, vast majority of law-abiding, God-fearing black Americans are responsible for modern-day urban criminality.

This is not to delegitimize the message of the protesters. They deserve to be heard – and I will fight for their right to march and protest injustice. Police brutality is a problem in all its forms. It is always an admirable goal to lower the number of civilians killed by members of law enforcement, unlawfully or otherwise.

But let’s not pretend that it is solely a problem in the black community. The media often uses sensationalism to drive narratives. No money is to be made from reporting that whites are the majority of those killed by the police.

Again, this is not to minimize the violence committed against blacks or the murder of Mr. Floyd. It merely puts it into perspective and gives credence to the protesters. It allows Americans, not subsections of them divided by race, to join together to protest unjust killings and police reform. But actively disregarding the laws of this nation? There is no future in lawlessness.

Peaceful protesters do not defend violence or needless destruction in any form. If you want allies in your movement, you must ditch the violence and the rioters, and instead embrace the peace and the dream of the Rev. King. This is not a Boston Tea Party moment. Don’t compare the burning of local businesses, already suffering from the COVID-19 lockdown and slumping economy, to the tossing of crates of tea in the bay, protesting the British government’s mercantilist arm.

I believe that the wisdom of one of my heroes, Booker T. Washington, is relevant. Mr. Washington had the wisdom and foresight to see that social change would best be accomplished by building ourselves up. He championed education and investment in our own communities, advancing into the business and middle classes of America.

It might surprise many to know, even under the repulsive Jim Crow era, across the South were whole swaths of areas within cities with proud and self-sufficient black-owned businesses and organizations. Taken with the Rev. King’s message of civil disobedience and peaceful protest, this is the blueprint for how we can move forward with our new challenges and the stubborn old ones.

Before we look outward, we, as members of the African American community, should turn inward and analyze our community’s problems. The crisis of fatherlessness in America hits so hard in our community. Blacks are shooting each other in rates much higher than other races are. If black lives matter, why are we so quick to look outward and blame others when we have so many problems that no one can solve but ourselves?

Protesters: You had the country, until you decided to make it burn.

Ethan Lang was student body president of Milford High School and currently is a politics and law fellow at Dartmouth College. He is a resident of Milford.