We Have Work To Do
George Floyd’s murder was unacceptable. Racism is unacceptable. Violence is unacceptable. Trampling on the rights of journalists, protestors, property owners and others is unacceptable. Using language that divides, rather than unites, is unacceptable. Ignoring the problem is unacceptable.
Much of our attention in recent days has understandably been focused on George Floyd’s death and the violence that followed. It’s easy to understand why. The images are jarring and have deeply troubled the hearts of all decent people.
Real progress toward equal justice won’t come from focusing only on horrific and headline-grabbing acts of violence, though. There is a real hurt and anger that long pre-dates George Floyd’s death.
Every day in every state, there are thousands of acts of injustice, large and small, impacting people of color and beyond. Recognizing them, processing them and eliminating them will take tremendous work. There is a role for all of us, myself included, in that labor. Progress will take years – it will be uncomfortable and there will be setbacks. But we need to act.
People tend to look toward government action when discussing the need for progress. Clearly there is a role for state, federal and local governments in building a more just society. There is an even more important role for each of us to individually examine how we can grow in this area and to intentionally modify our behavior to become better leaders.
For example, I don’t have hate in my heart. That doesn’t let me off the hook, because hate isn’t the only thing that fosters discrimination or injustice. I sometimes suffer from lazy assumptions, overly optimistic views, and a swiftness to discount ideas that make me uncomfortable or do not directly impact me. I have a trusted team from a diverse set of ethnicities, genders, and backgrounds, but we don’t have the difficult conversations nor let these conversations guide intentional action as often as we should. Clearly, I’ve got work to do.
In recent years, I’ve tried to take steps in the right direction, though it’s not been enough. I’ve listened to victims of discrimination to better understand what they’ve faced. I’ve established the Ben Reifel Internship, an opportunity for a student committed to tribal and Native American issues to serve in our congressional office. I serve on the House Civil Rights and Human Services subcommittee, and have been a leader on numerous bills affecting people of color, including serving as floor manager of the bill that provided much-needed resources to tribal and historically Black colleges and universities.
There are other steps our government must take. We need to increase the number of people of color in law enforcement and other government positions. We need to make sure the ways we hold offenders accountable within our criminal justice system are fair and proven to keep our communities safe. We must examine our government services to identify structural barriers and disparities in how they serve different communities and be brave enough to change these services if they do not hold up.
As I said, I have more to do. It’s not easy to hear, but to be honest, we all do.