America's divide widens: Ignore it no longer
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As horrified Americans watched the rioting that followed the killing of George Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis police, the truth about just how divided America is— politically, racially, and class-wise—was laid bare. And now we must own that truth.

In the weeks before Floyd’s death, the COVID-19 pandemic had already put tremendous stress on the fault-line of race and economic class. Big online retailers raked in billions and white-collar professionals worked safely from home while millions of low-wage service-industry workers and small business owners lost their jobs and health insurance or were forced to risk infection by working on site. It became starkly clear who was doing the serving and who was being served.

The Floyd killing on top of the pandemic lockdowns and the massive wave of unemployment led to people taking out their anger, frustration and stress on their fellow citizens and their own communities.

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As these overlapping crises have been unfolding, if you have looked for leadership at the highest level, you have found little—from the president, Congress, the faith community, or top business leaders. Mayors and governors have been left to bear the brunt of struggling with the pandemic and trying to manage the rioters. The president has no idea what to do or say. Instead, he tweets.

It is official: We must stop looking to politicians to solve our problems. Simply put, they can’t or won’t do it. They are too cowardly, too self-interested, and too partisan.

Years ago, when most members of Congress lived in Washington, D.C. most of the year, they had plenty of opportunity during their off hours to develop personal relationships with colleagues from the other political party and were more apt to work together in a bipartisan way. Now, easy air travel allows them to go home every weekend. Congress now works only Tuesday through Friday normally, and much of that time is spent raising money. The leaders of the two parties hate each other, and the Speaker of the House and the president don’t talk.

On top of this, we have a president who thrives on division and who insists that his party leaders, Cabinet members, and appointed officials play along with him, either through their words and actions or by silent accord. And they dutifully obey.

It’s time to face the fact that our current crop of leaders will not heal the wounds that are ripping our country apart. That means every American must hold himself or herself responsible for repairing the divisions in our society. We must step up and take action as we have never done before. We must open our eyes, our minds, our mouths and our hearts to one another in new ways. This has become personal. Change is on us this time.

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Yes, it may be awkward to step out of our comfort zones and try to see the world through another person’s eyes. We need to do it anyway. Yes, it may be hard to set aside our cherished positions and listen, in an undefended way, to another person’s point of view. We need to do it anyway. Yes, it may be painful to learn that we ourselves may be harboring prejudices we weren’t aware of. We need to do it anyway.

We need to change.

Here are five ways we can start:

  1. First, we must admit we have a problem that requires fixing. We need to acknowledge that racism is real. Period. It still permeates not just the ranks of law enforcement but society at large, as Amy Cooper in Central Park showed us with her bogus police call on an African American bird watcher. We can’t fix the problem until we own it, each and every one of us.
  2. Second, we must hold every leader, at every level of government, accountable for their words and actions on this specific issue. If they fail to step up, we must vote them out in an unprecedented wave.
  3. Third, we must insist that our leaders remove themselves from social media—a forum that only inflames and divides people. Start leading, stop tweeting.
  4. Fourth, we must use whatever public access we personally have available to us to denounce racism and the police targeting of African Americans. We must speak out in our company communications, on our websites, in our community forums, and on our front lawns and automobiles.
  5. Finally, we must not be thrown off course by the clever use of deflection. We must keep our “eyes on the prize.”

As we move forward, we all could use a refresher course on American history and the legacy of slavery. White people need to work harder to understand the fear and anger of African Americans who have been hit disproportionally hard by the pandemic, lost loved ones and/or their jobs, and have now been forced to witness yet another methodical police-killing of an unarmed African American citizen. Those of us who are not personally affected need to be as outraged as those who are. Let’s create a “new normal” of taking a stand for one another and let’s truly make American great.

“It is not only what we do, but also what we do not do, for which we are accountable.”

― Molière

Ritch K. Eich, Ph.D., former chief of public affairs for Blue Shield of California, has published fours books on leadership with a fifth soon to be released. A retired captain in the naval reserve, he served on congressional committees for Sens. Carl LevinCarl Milton LevinMichigan to pay 0M to victims of Flint water crisis Unintended consequences of killing the filibuster Inspector general independence must be a bipartisan priority in 2020 MORE of Michigan and Dan CoatsDaniel (Dan) Ray CoatsPresident Trump: To know him is to 'No' him Avoiding the 1876 scenario in November Democrat asks intelligence director if Trump's personal debt is security problem MORE of Indiana. He holds a Ph.D. from the University of Michigan.