GREG HARTON: Making sure a win really is progress

I’ve never been a wheeler-dealer on things like buying a car. When it comes time to buy, I’ll think about tactics we’ve perhaps all heard about to broker the best deal.

Don’t fall in love with any car. There’s always another one.

Be aware of a car’s value before you begin negotiations.

Be willing to walk away if the price isn’t right.

It’s a bit like poker to me, with each player making bets they hope will reflect a high level of confidence, whether it really exists or not. Watching those TV poker shows, I’ll sometimes see a winning player who nonetheless had a losing hand show a just-folded opponent his cards — proving their bluff or just showing they had a much smaller hand than their opponent believed.

It’s all negotiation. Sometimes you win. Sometimes you don’t.

If any of us can expect the tumult over George Floyd’s death to produce anything of lasting significance, we’re going to witness a lot of negotiation in the months and years ahead.

Advancing the cause of equality doesn’t need to be a game of winners and losers, unless someone involved intends it to be for their own sometimes unjust reasons. It seems to me everything that whittles away at this lingering “us vs. them” divide in the United States is an improvement for all people.

While I know that’s true, this is not a time to stubbornly cling to a declaration that “all lives matter.” Of course, they do. But our national circumstance has (again) brought into focus the difficult, sometimes deadly, world in which black Americans survive. Black advocates hoping to improve the odds that they and their families can live without the effects of prejudice and injustice would happily join an “all lives matter” chant if they didn’t have to devote so much time and energy navigating a discriminatory and unsafe climate.

Maybe this time, these local, regional and national conversations will lead to greater understanding.

Last week included Juneteenth, a cultural and historical holiday in the United States. It grew out of the much-delayed notification and enforcement of President Abraham Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation in Texas, where more than 2 years after slaves were freed, many had never been informed about it.

As Americans seek a productive response to the unjust death of George Floyd and other tragedies, the negotiations are beginning: revived talks of reparations for the effects of slavery; lobbying to turn Juneteenth into a national or state holiday; removal of monuments and markers that were or are perceived to be rooted in racism; and many other matters.

It’s important that America’s cultural fabric contains many bright threads related to the culture, experience and history of the nation’s population of African American descent. In too many ways, black Americans still carry the burden not just of slavery, but of a national culture that never fully cleared a path forward from 1865 into economic and educational opportunity.

Is it better today than it’s ever been? I think that answer has to be yes, if only because the fresh thinking of every new generation somehow manages to clear out some of the lingering cobwebs of racism. But the filters of time are not perfected and will not by themselves eradicate discriminatory thoughts from being passed on like unwanted, unattractive and outdated furniture from an ancestor’s estate. It will take work. And negotiation.

I’m a little suspicious about some of the proposals involving holidays or reparations, not out of opposition, but the possibility that some will presume either gesture will equate to a bill “paid in full.” That would be a poor outcome to these negotiations.

The nation needs more than gestures. It needs lasting and significant changes to cultural thinking, to attitudes, to strategies for understanding so that skin color no longer exists as a barrier to our common humanity.

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