I am in a program for a Masters in Public Administration at the University of Nevada, Reno and the program has helped me better understand and view the choices we have decided to make as a society. Before entering the program I approached politics the way I approached most sciences, believing that there was a single best way, or a single answer to the great questions of how should society organize itself and how we decide who gets what, when, and why. My program has helped me see to what extent our society is built on choices, and how much subjectivity goes into the choices we make. As I read back through the sections I highlighted from Cory Booker’s United, which I read before starting the program, I see how my change in thinking about these questions impacts the way I think about the political questions Booker raises.
Booker quotes Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. in his book to say, “I think America must see riots do not develop out of thin air,” he said. “Certain conditions continue to exist in our society, which must be condemned as vigorously as we condemn riots … social justice and progress are the absolute guarantors of riot prevention.”
Dr. King’s quote shows the decisions our country had made up to the 1960s and how they led to a situation where riots regarding racial tensions erupted. Society had chosen to organize itself in a way that limited the rights and freedoms of some and protected the status of others. Inequity led to social unrest. Society’s decisions led to its problems.
Our country today faces similar racial tensions, but they are not well understood and racial tensions today are downplayed by those who do not feel the effects of discrimination directly. Our country has decided to continue arresting minority populations at higher levels than white people, and we have decided to segregate ourselves (based on economic mobility) and create neighborhoods of deep poverty. Some of these decisions can be understood by looking at human nature and the tribal tendencies and reactions that we all share, but ultimately we should recognize that intentional or not, it is our decisions that make the world we live in.
As a society, we could decide to criticize those who riot and those who challenge social order and speak out against perceived injustices. This does not just apply to racial minorities who riot, but to those who find such displeasure with the system. We should evaluate the choices we are making and try to better understand what choices on our end create the situation that we dislike socially. Perceived inequities are real to the people who experience them, even if they do not seem to be legitimate to others, and likely do result from real actions taken by real people.
I would argue, and I think Booker would agree, that we must look at those that we condemn and better understand the forces that push them toward riot or despair. From this point we can better understand how our actions fit in with the world that has created challenges and obstacles for so many people. During this process we need to be aware of our own values and judgements, recognizing that the choices we make could be the result of our own prejudice.