(RNS) These are contentious times. Battle lines have been drawn upon everything that could possibly divide us: politics, ethnicities, religions, gender, sexual orientation and socio-economics. Especially now in the aftermath of brutal weeks of racial tension on top of an already combative primary season and run-up to the presidential election, everyone is being asked to pick a side.
I feel like shouting with all the force I can summon, “We are better than this, America!”
That is not to make light of the very real struggles that exist. As a Hispanic who grew up in a predominantly white community, I know something about racism. Yet, my experience pales in comparison to what many in the African-American community experience on a daily basis.
This sentiment rings especially true in the wake of the police-involved shooting deaths of Alton Sterling and Philando Castile and the subsequent assassination of police officers in Dallas and Baton Rouge.
The sad truth is that instead of recognizing that both sides bleed from this conflict, many will use these events to further divide our nation.
Remember the murder trial of O.J. Simpson?
One month after the slayings of Nicole Brown and Ronald Goldman, 63 percent of white Americans thought Simpson was guilty while 65 percent of black Americans thought he was innocent. More than a year later, with all of the evidence made public in the “trial of the century,” ABC News anchor Peter Jennings noted that in fact the gap of opinion between races had only widened (77 percent and 72 percent, respectively).
This trial, which so focused our collective attention on the relationship between black Americans and the police, ended with our nation further apart, not closer together.
You see, we must be able to differentiate race baiting and political opportunism from sincere cries of injustice. Lately it seems that many “activists” are little more than professional hype machines, hoping to stir up clicks and views or get more coverage on the nightly news.
That’s not activism, because true activism calls us to a higher place.
When we fixate only on what’s wrong or cast blame on an entire group (whether Hispanics, whites, blacks, Republicans or Democrats) we lose sight of all that binds us together. We become weaker as a nation, more divided and more tribal. As it’s said, “A house divided against itself cannot stand.”
Do we really want to live in a country where we aren’t “supposed to” meet or agree with leaders of a different political party, skin color or religion? Here in America, home to the greatest political experiment the world has ever known, we must wrestle, claw and fight for unity. Unity requires justice, and justice requires objectivity.
Martin Luther King Jr. once said, “We must learn to live together as brothers, or we will perish together as fools.”
Do we have serious challenges that require battles to be waged and won? Yes, and today that feels truer than ever. But we must remember that we are all brothers and sisters living on shared soil. We have a country that millions around the world are willing to sell all they own and move to in hopes of a better life – just as my parents did when they came to America.
In spite of our sins and shortcomings, we have a great inheritance that’s worth fighting to improve. We have a history wrought by struggle yet brimming with triumph.
For my part, I will continue to work with both political parties regardless of the criticism. I will seek to forge alliances with those who disagree with me and fight for reform that gives voice to the marginalized, the immigrant and the oppressed.
You might have a different skin color, political party, religion, sexual orientation and bank balance than me, but you are not my enemy. You are my brother. You are my sister.
(The Rev. Sam Rodriguez is the author of “Be Light” and president of the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference)