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Black Lives Matter: The Problem of Citizenship

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In addressing the demands of minorities "...a simple reaffirmation of the ideal of common citizenship is not a serious option..." from the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy

The Demand

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The Black Lives Matter movement and the NAACP have made recent demands. The first demand is to be made free from a police brutality that has killed countless blacks in just this past year. The other demands are for adequate and safe education, good jobs and fair wages, and complete protection of the right to vote. [i] If you distill all of these requests down to their essence: Isn't this just a crying out for full citizenship, a citizenship that was constitutionally guaranteed by the 14 th Amendment?

The Issue of Acceptance

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Many people assume that these demands have something to do with "thug life" and the violent tendencies of some African American youth. But I am a sixty-one year old African American male and I have lived in my suburban community since I was twelve years old. I have made strenuous efforts in my lifetime to: better myself; become educated and be a respectable person. I am a countywide elected official.

But when I exercise in the park at the beach near the home I have owned for nearly thirty years, I am regularly met with hostile stares. Mothers and fathers grab the hands of their children and pull them closer with protective whispers. Shopping for Christmas holiday, I have been followed by store security. In fact, I have made it a practice not to dress casually when holiday shopping. Instead I wear my business suit to avoid this sort of harassment and to be treated with some degree of courtesy.

How would you feel if you could not exercise in your own beach park or shop without fear of mistreatment? Would it make a difference to you if you were a graduate of Harvard, Stanford or Yale?

These claims are neither a fabrication nor an exaggeration I could fill pages with additional examples. This is merely the experience of a Black man in America. It is the problem of not being accepted as a member of one's community.

I have travelled to Europe twice: once as a single nineteen year old sporting a huge afro, and again as a fifty-plus-year old with my wife (who is Jewish). Both times I was treated with acceptance. As a young man I was so moved by the experience that I did not want to come home. As a married fifty year old and as part of a mixed-race couple, I was unprepared for the acceptance we experienced in France and Spain.

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In France people thought we were French. We would go to restaurants and be addressed in French by the wait staff. They would be surprised when we explained that we were Americans and not fluent in French. This disclosure did not change their attitude.

During this trip we were regularly approached on the street and asked for directions or help. In the airport on the way to Spain from France I was approached by a French woman who was in distress and asked for help. I explained to her that I was not French and could only speak in English. She switched to English and continued her plea for help. I was able to help her and thereafter she smiled and waved whenever we crossed paths before catching our different flights.

So I know the difference between rejection and being accepted as a safe member of the community by sight: Even when I wasn't a member of that cultural community.

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Eric Z. Lucas is an alumnus of Stanford University (Creative Writing Major: 1972-1975), the University of Washington (1981: BA English Literature and Elementary Education) and Harvard Law School, J.D. 1986. Since law school he has been a public (more...)
 

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