Leonard Pitts Jr.: What's next in Ferguson? Let's try a little education

Oklahoman Published: August 23, 2014
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What next?

That’s what should concern us now. When the nightly dance of angry protesters, opportunistic criminals, and inept police clashing over the shooting of unarmed black teenager Michael Brown finally ends, what steps should civic-minded people take to address the ongoing abuse of African Americans by the criminal injustice system? Not just in Ferguson, Mo., but in America?

There will be no shortage of good ideas: dashboard cameras, community policing, the hiring of more black cops, the removal of military hardware from police arsenals, sensitivity training. To these, I would add a suggestion that is admittedly less ”sexy” than any of those, but which I think has greater potential to make fundamental change in the long term. In a word: education.

Beginning as early as the latter elementary years, schools should offer — no, require — age-appropriate cross-cultural studies that would, in effect, introduce us to us. Meaning not some airy fairy curriculum of achievements and accomplishments designed to impart some vague intra-cultural pride, but a hard-headed, warts and all American history designed to impart understanding of who we are, where we’re from and the forces that have made us — inner-city black, Appalachian white, barrio Mexican, whatever.

You might consider this a utopian idea. Maybe it is. But I’ve never been able to shake a conviction that if you walk the proverbial mile in another man’s shoes, you inoculate yourself against your biases toward him. I believe empathy follows understanding.

Surely we could use some empathy just now. As America races toward a future in which no one race is numerically dominant, it remains largely a nation of cultural illiterates content to interpret various Others through lenses of stereotype and canard. If this has been a bonanza for certain politicians (”Elect me and I’ll keep you safe from the gays/the Mexicans/the blacks!”), let us never forget that this ignorance, these unconscious biases for and against, have real world impact.

Michael Brown lying dead in the street is seemingly one image thereof. Here’s another:

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