Unless polarization ends, problem central to Ferguson won't either

Americans watched along with the people of Ferguson, Missouri, at the courthouse steps and waited. The nation watched in anticipation while Ferguson's residents waited with fear.

Business owners boarded up their windows, reinforced their doors, closed up shop and said a prayer on their way home that their business would still exist in the morning and not just sit as a pile of burnt rubble.

As a nation we went through a similar racially charged event when the streets of Los Angeles saw six days of rioting in the wake of the acquittal of officers charged with beating Rodney King in 1992. Similarly, the country was on edge as we watched O.J. Simpson acquitted of killing his ex-wife, a white woman, Nicole Brown Simpson.

Regardless of what people will tell you, nobody knows what is in the hearts and minds of anybody but themselves. I would love to write and tell you that this isn't about race, that it's about the justice system and that we need to believe in the rule of law.

However, I cannot do that -- it is absolutely about race.

None of us were on the streets of Ferguson when officer Darren Wilson shot and killed Michael Brown, and regardless of the rhetoric we have heard since the incident that August afternoon, none of us know exactly what happened. While the individual case of Brown's killing is certainly important, there are larger issues to be considered.

When it comes to racial relations in this country and the relationship between this country's police officers and the African-American community, something is broken.

In the classic American mindset of picking one side or the other rather than searching for a solution to some problem, or even being willing to admit that it exists, people are defending, loudly, either Michael Brown or Darren Wilson. It's sad, it's pointless, and it's destroying our nation.

America is supposed to be the melting pot. We are meant to be a nation diverse in opinion, race and gender. We should embrace our brothers and sisters as Americans and appreciate their heritage as well as our own.

However, something is broken. It doesn't matter who is at fault; we all share some blame. We are in denial and that needs to end.

I'm a white guy. I can't help it, as Lady Gaga would say, I was born this way. However, this doesn't define, for me, who I am. I'm an introvert, I'm a writer, I love sports, rock music, hiking, camping and raspberry mochas.

I can, and do, listen to the experiences my African-American brothers have when they make contact with law enforcement, but I will never be able to understand it on their level, because I will never experience it.

Why does this divide and lack of trust exist? How do we fix it? What concessions should be made on both sides?

We will not be able to answer any of these questions while we are too busy picking sides and screaming things back and forth that will ensure further and growing animosity exists between these two groups.

Regardless of what you might think, there is no doubt that a black man walking into a store is being watched a little bit closer than I am. He will probably receive slightly poorer customer service than I will and nobody will notice except for that black man who continues to feel more and more alienated the more times this happens.

That animosity grows as a community continues to feel as if they are not welcome in this "melting pot" nation. They are paying the price for people they never knew and for actions they never took. "Well, I was attacked by a black man once" or "I was held at gunpoint by a black man robbing the store where I worked" are not reasons to be uncomfortable about a man that had nothing to do with those incidents.

People in the African-American community will tell you, in large numbers, that they have largely negative interactions with the police. A recent Gallup poll shows that a quarter of young African-American men feel that they were treated unfairly during recent interactions with police officers because they were black.

Now, those of you that are still hanging tight to the side you're on can argue about why that is and you will accomplish nothing, except to further the racial divide we currently see in our country.

The rest of us can reach our hands out to our brothers and sisters and ask for their stories. We can listen, we can hold hands and we can work toward understanding and compassion. We can admit that there are no absolute truths and that just as our perception becomes our reality, our brothers from different racial backgrounds have perceptions that become their reality as well.

We should strive to understand everybody's reality. We cannot stand in their shoes, but we should listen to each other and try to come to a mutual understanding.

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. dreamed about a colorblind society -- we have failed him. Dr. King's vision cannot be realized until we all hold out our hands, ask for forgiveness and offer compassion and offer to start the discussion. This is not a black problem, not a white problem. It's our problem, and it's our responsibility to work toward a solution.

Mike Dingman is a fifth-generation Alaskan born and raised in Anchorage. He is a former UAA student body president and has worked, studied and volunteered in Alaska politics since the late 90s. Email him at michaeldingman(at)gmail.com.

The views expressed here are the writer's own and are not necessarily endorsed by Alaska Dispatch News, which welcomes a broad range of viewpoints. To submit a piece for consideration, email commentary(at)alaskadispatch.com.

Mike Dingman

Mike Dingman is a fifth-generation Alaskan born and raised in Anchorage. He is a former UAA student body president and has worked, studied and volunteered in Alaska politics since the late '90s.