Dignity & Respect represents the evolution of how social issues should be discussed and dealt with in our increasingly socially complex world. Currently, when topics such as gun control, mass incarceration, and immigration are discussed, it is done in an overly emotional and divisive manner. Here at Dignity & Respect, Inc. our mission is to make the world a better place for all to live—with all of our differences. We feel that only by improving our cultural awareness and finding common ground, will we be able to tackle the problems our society faces.
My Personal Experience
My name is Andre Blair, I am 26 years old and was born and raised in California between Los Angeles and the San Francisco Bay Area. The liberal values of the areas where I spent my formative years, coupled with the inclusive tone set by the Clinton administration, would lead you to believe I have not been affected by racism or bigotry. In some ways this is true; I have never been called a racial slur to my face, (online comment sections are an entirely different conversation) I have never been refused service based on the color of my skin, and have never been asked to sit in the back of a bus. However, I certainly do not feel my life chances have been the same as a white male of similar socio-economic status. As a black male, I am ten times more likely to be arrested, twenty percent more likely to drop out of college, and was twice as likely to become a teenage parent. These statistics represent traps I could have very easily fallen into, and have witnessed many of my peers succumb to. I was only able to avoid them due to a very supportive family structure.
Reasons For The Disparities
What is the reason for these disparities? Are the men and women who decide how our society is organized racist? I do not believe so; the answer is much more subtle. We all come into every interaction with the baggage of all of our previous experiences. Here at Dignity & Respect, we call these filters. For example; a white school administrator, who prior to holding that position had grown up in a middle-class suburb surrounded by only white residents, might enter into any interaction with an African-American or Latino student carrying that baggage. Now imagine this same administrator has also received most of his/her information about minority youth from a mass media that thrives on portraying these demographics as dangerous and untrustworthy. Our fictional administrator is likely going to subconsciously consult these filters when making disciplinary decisions involving minority students. This is a driving factor of the incredible disparities existing between the suspension and expulsion rates of black and white students. Is this evidence of racism? Are these administrators bad people who are actively trying to undermine the success of minority students? I don’t believe so. However, many of them lack a reasonable level of cultural awareness which inhibits them from being able to find common ground with their black and latino students.
These subtle issues are the major barriers keeping us from achieving greater harmony in our society. If we enter into interactions with each other while harboring toxic subconscious opinions, we are doomed to end up with negative outcomes. We must work to increase our knowledge of one another; we must break out of our comfort zones and befriend people who do not look or think like us; we must engage those friends and strive to understand their point of view. Only then will we be able to tackle complex issues such as gun control, mass incarceration, and immigration.
The recent successes of identity driven political campaigns, and their strategic use of divisive rhetoric has exacerbated an already overly hostile debate space in the United States. Identity politics differ from ideological versions in the ways citizens group themselves. Identity based political formations typically aim to secure the political freedom of a specific group at the expense of another. Examples of this could be the organization of the conservative bloc around pro-life legislation or liberals with same sex marriage. Emotions around these types of topics run deep and when they become primary political drivers our ability to have civil discourse suffers.
Why Has This Happened?
In 1968, nearly 80% of Americans* watched nightly broadcast news. At that point in time, these networks were sharing information that aimed to appear as unbiased as possible* so as not to alienate any viewers. Over time though, cable news networks that cater only to smaller slices of the opinion spectrum began to crop up, which created a phenomenon of intensified media bias. Partisan Internet news outlets have only added to this increase and have corralled citizens into separate corners of conversation.
As a result, we tend to witness groups of thinkers who typically only engage in debates with one another, and who view outside opinions as wrong or antagonistic. This is particularly true within the political system itself, a space in which the common practice of gerrymandering determines how the congressional districts are mapped out. In fact, 90% of these districts are so rigged that the winning political party has already been decided before votes are even cast. These once-vibrant settings for debate and discussion are now just cocoons that insulate the different parties from one another.
How Does D&R Plan to Change This?
It is because of this current state of debate that the Dignity & Respect Campaign has developed an alternative type of conversation space. We call this unique initiative Viewpoints – and it will differ from the current debate panels and news shows because our approach incorporates real people into the discussion, rather than figureheads. We want to showcase the similarities between our participants, in addition to their differences, so you – our readers – can see firsthand that everyone has precisely the same goal: to make a difference. Instead of viewing those with opposing opinions as enemies to be beaten or converted, we should view them as potential collaborators.
We will begin our Viewpoints series with a month-long conversation about the state of conversation. We will discuss how we can start to appreciate the diversity of thought in our nation, and hopefully discuss ways to increase respect for one another in our interactions. Once dignity and respect are incorporated into debate, we will have the ability to find merit in the opinions of others. We can begin building solutions to the many complex issues we face by combining ideas from all schools of thought.
The climate of discussion in America does not need to persist in its current partisan and harmful manner. Your neighbor is not your enemy if he or she does not agree with you, and we should not overlook the good intentions behind every opinion. Remember, we are all in this together.
*Taken from the film: Best of Enemies. Dir. Morgan Neville and Robert Gordan. Magnolia Pictures, 2015. DVD.