Editorial: We all must find the best in ourselves

The Editorial Advisory Board
Brian Peters, paraprofessional at Farley Elementary School, and Topeka Police Chief Bill Cochran

This past week has made one thing very clear. Things must change. Many are hurting, and people are angry.

Our country has erupted in outrage in a way not seen in decades over the senseless murders of George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery and Breonna Taylor. Something needs to change.

Many of us without color have been quick to show support and solidarity this week. Social media is exploding with memes and hashtags. We are carrying signs and wearing T-shirts. But are we making an effort to understand? Truly understand? Are we listening to the reasons?

Our state is 86% white. Racial diversity is minim`al in many Kansas communities. It is impossible for the average white person in the Sunflower State to understand the core causes for the anger being expressed. Because of a lack of experience, he or she cannot be a subject matter expert on decades of racial injustice, systemic racism and discrimination.

But that doesn’t mean he shouldn’t try.

The average black Kansan earns one-third less than the average white Kansan, according to the U.S. Census. The black unemployment rate last year was 6.5% compared to 2.8% for whites. The racial poverty gap is stunning. In 2018, the percentage of people in Kansas living below the poverty level was 10.9% for whites and 24.6% for African Americans.

Pent-up frustration, anger and questions about fairness are understandable.

One of our favorite quotes appears in Harper Lee’s “To Kill a Mockingbird” through the voice of Atticus Finch: “If you can learn a simple trick, Scout, you’ll get along a lot better with all kinds of folks. You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view, until you climb inside of his skin and walk around in it.”

That means taking the time and effort to listen. Truly listen. It means being uncomfortable and asking difficult questions. Be prepared to receive answers you don’t want to hear.

We believe the responsibility for healing our country begins with each one of us. Most of us are quick to point fingers and blame Washington or the Statehouse in Topeka. Sometimes we blame local schools and government. Ultimately, however, each of us must be better. We must be human.

Those of us in the USA Today Network are promoting the concept of being an Ally.

Being an Ally means examining your beliefs about people or groups who are different from you and asking yourself if some of those beliefs are stereotypes or biases. Being an Ally is the process of working to develop individual attitudes, environments and a culture in which all people feel valued.

An Ally is a person who works to facilitate the development of, and to improve the experience of all Kansans. Don’t remain silent when you see or hear something inappropriate. Defend colleagues and neighbors against discrimination. Speak up. Try to be a focused, thoughtful and empathetic listener. Encourage and support differences. Ask tough questions.

We are asking all Kansans to dig deep and assess perceptions. We are asking each of us to find the best in ourselves to make our state and country the best they can be.