Last week I posted a question on Facebook:
“How does the viral posting of a photo of a white boy murdered by a black man contribute anything constructive to the conversation?”
I was not trolling, as one commenter suggested; I was actually looking for answers. So I waited, not interacting at all with the responses, just letting them accumulate and interact with one another. By posting time for this blog entry, there were 68 comments, which statisticians tell us is more than enough for useful analysis.
One of my friends—and by that I mean not just a Facebook friend, but an actual friend, whom I know, like, respect, and pray for—posted a characteristically thoughtful response, including these words:
“I feel like a fool and a horrible person if I draw attention to what happened to George Floyd (which I did) and I refuse to highlight this horrible situation with this innocent five-year-old.”
Most of the others who responded to the question—as opposed to those who just cheered from the sidelines, for one side or the other—cited media bias as their motivator: they wanted to highlight a crime that the media were ignoring, in stark contrast to the perceived media over-reporting of the Floyd episode.
As more than one commenter noted, however, there has indeed been national news coverage of both stories, despite the frequent allegation that “the media are just ignoring [the latter story].” By the time I posted my question, CNN, Newsweek, and People Magazine, as well as wire services from ABC, CBS, NBC, Fox / Cox, and even the Independent in the UK had run stories on it. It’s obvious that the Floyd story got exponentially more coverage, but the statement that the story is being “ignored” is just not true.
One commenter acknowledged that there had been national media coverage of both events, but that the latter one was not reported with any reference to race, while the racist motives of the police involved with Floyd were assumed from the outset. Significantly, the family of the boy has specifically requested that the case not be characterized as about race.
And thus arises the issue that motivated my question in the first place.
In 2018, which is apparently the last year for which reliable data are available, 255 children aged 1 to 4 were murdered. Of those, 129 were white, and 113 were black. As far as I know, there’s no simple way to determine the race of the offender in each of those cases, but we do know that of all the murders of whites, of any age, in that year (3,315), 81% (2677) were committed by other whites, and 16% (514) were committed by blacks. If we extend that ratio to the murders of children, then in that year about 25 white children aged 1 to 4 were murdered by blacks. (Feel free to check my math.)
Now, we can all agree that that number is too high.
But can you find a way to understand, when you share that story for the stated purpose of calling attention to an injustice, why many of the people you’re trying to convince might suspect that there’s a racial motive involved? Look at that horrible black man.
Why did you pick one of the 25? Why not pick one of the other 230?
In a culture where the atmosphere is already toxic, where we’re predisposed to distrust one another, we have to think carefully about the perceived motivations and implications of our actions, even when our intentions are completely above board. Audience analysis. Strategy.
We’re not going to convince anybody—change anybody’s mind—if we don’t think about these things.
And that’s what we want, right? To change minds?
One of the commenters suggested that all this is just venting—that it’s not really about conversation or discussion or making progress toward a solution. (Everything after the dash is my words, not his.) If he’s right, then we’re all in deep trouble—first, with God, because venting is just giving in to the flesh, one of the great enemies of our soul, and second, as a society, because venting is not the path to a solution and a consequent livable society, but a death spiral into chaos, to which we will all have contributed and for which we will all be guilty.
We’re going to come to a solution, if we ever do, one person at a time, by holding ourselves accountable, speaking in wisdom, and committing to be part of the solution rather than merely ratcheting up the rage.