News

Don't be distracted by roadblocks to productive dialogue, nuanced conversation

News

The ultimate goals, the basic expectations, are easy enough to see. Justice. Anti-racism. Equality. Love and respect for humanity.

Obvious and uncomplicated, right?

That’s why I’m surprised by some of the twisted things I’ve seen and heard in the last month and a half. It’s been about that long — seven weeks — since George Floyd pleaded for his life in Minneapolis, his neck pinned to the ground for nearly nine minutes under a police officer’s knee.

It was that recorded murder, thoughtless and merciless in high definition, that sparked historic protests here and abroad. Those marches were emphatic, multigenerational, multiethnic rebukes against abuse of power and injustice. Anyone exercising that abuse — and verbally or silently protecting it — is clearly the enemy.

Get the latest news and analysis on all of your teams from NBC Sports Boston by downloading the My Teams App

So how exactly did we get here?

In this climate, how does DeSean Jackson say he stands for love and unity yet get to a place where he’s producing multiple anti-Semitic posts on social media? Even worse, as he apologized for those hateful comments and tried to bury them, a former NBA player wouldn’t let him do it. Instead, Stephen Jackson retrieved them from the trash, gave them value, and added a wilder, more conspiratorial, anti-Semitic commentary on the wealthy Rothschild family.

Nothing good comes from reviving someone else’s deleted posts. And any conversation that leads us away from justice and toward a comparison of atrocities (1619 and the Holocaust) is destined to fall to pieces.

Jackson, a longtime friend of Floyd’s, was eloquent and thoughtful in the days after Floyd’s death. Kendrick Perkins remarked at the time that Jackson’s steadiness and passion seemed to be a divine “calling.” I could see what he meant. But seemingly hours after having that thought, I heard Jackson lecturing Stephen A. Smith because the commentator had the nerve to disagree with Kyrie Irving’s position on an NBA restart. Jackson told Smith that “no Black man” should say what Smith said. Then, condescendingly, he concluded that management — presumably white management — pulled some strings and turned Smith into a puppet.

 

Apparently, there is just one path to justice, and that single path doesn’t allow Black people to disagree with one another on layered issues. Even if the issue is basketball. Perkins learned that in a painful way when he, too, disagreed with Irving. When Kevin Durant saw Perkins’ criticism of Irving, he called his former teammate a “sell out.”

Justice. Anti-racism. Equality. Love and respect for humanity.

That still is the mission, right? Does it require us all to get there on the same ideological train? Do we all have to sound and think the same to arrive at a place where reasonable people all want to be?

In some ways, history has no precedent for what we’re seeing right now. Some data specialists and pollsters have suggested that the Black Lives Matter protests are the largest in the country’s history. While we haven’t seen that before, we can take some lessons from disagreements in the past. It’s certainly not new for passionate people of conscience to collide on strategy.

In her 2014 movie "Selma," filmmaker Ava DuVernay was able to capture an essential truth from a dramatization. Even as they agreed to march against racism and segregation in Alabama, there was tension between Martin Luther King Jr.’s Southern Christian Leadership Council (SCLC) and some members of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC). King’s group was seen as more deliberate while the youthful SNCC was more urgent.

Combined, the two groups produced some of the country’s most compelling leaders, drafted and ushered in groundbreaking legislation, and organized protests that we still discuss today, including the March on Washington.

King, a Christian, often had sharp philosophical differences with Malcolm X, a Muslim. One man gave us a “Letter from a Birmingham Jail,” while the other left a piece of his soul with his autobiography. I can’t begin to count the times I’ve gained insight, and wisdom, from both over the years.

In some ways, clearly, it’s harder to be nuanced with different opinions — or to listen to them at all — today. While the immediacy of social media is its strength and allowed the world to see the Floyd video, it’s the immediacy of our platforms that often derails conversations before we give them context and allow them to develop.

A perfect example from the last seven weeks is the warp speed with which Drew Brees’ image was recreated. He shared his opinion on kneeling for the flag, and I disagreed with what he had to say. But I still wanted to hear him and understand his reasoning. If I were his teammate, I’d be eager to do that away from social media so I could have an authentic — and likely uncomfortable — conversation with him in private.

 

You know by now that two of his higher-profile teammates, Michael Thomas and Malcolm Jenkins, initially did the opposite. I saw a video where Thomas was applauded for his actions by ... Stephen Jackson.

Meanwhile, it’s been nearly four months since three plainclothes police officers in Louisville entered Breonna Taylor’s apartment after midnight and killed her. She was shot eight times. It was supposedly a drug raid, but there were no drugs. Just a 26-year-old EMT and her boyfriend. No one has been charged with murder.

The enemies are still out there. Let’s keep our eyes on the ultimate prize.