A message from Jeff Mount, Chair, Skagit County Democrats

It’s not often that we turn to a basketball player for guidance on fixing the most pressing issues of the day.  But Kyle Korver, a guard for the Utah Jazz and one of the greatest shooters in NBA history, wrote an essay for the Players’ Tribune on April 8 that resonated deeply with me.

Korver is a good friend of Thabo Sefolosha, an NBA player whose femur was shattered by a policeman’s nightstick in 2015 when he was an innocent bystander at an altercation outside a New York City club.  Sefolosha is a black man with a South African father and a Swiss mother.  Korver is a white man from California.  In his essay, Korver writes about how Sefolosha’s injury and other incidents of racism involving NBA players made him want to do something to demonstrate his support for racial harmony.

Ultimately, Korver realized that he could never truly understand racism because, no matter how resolutely he stood shoulder to shoulder with his teammates from other races and ethnicities, he would never truly know how they feel because at the end of the day he had the option of going home to his safe and happy life of white privilege.  That didn’t, however, make him stop thinking about it.

In thinking about it, Korver draws a distinction between two crucial words:  blame and responsibility.  These words are critical because of what they communicate.  Regardless of how much people want to help solve a problem, when the first thing they are asked to do is accept blame for something that is much larger than any one person, their first instinct is naturally to recoil.  Once that happens, the conversation becomes adversarial, and we become more interested in defending ourselves than in solving the problem.  I feel that the issue of blame has been an obstacle in getting well-meaning people of different races to bridge the divide between them, mostly because it can never be resolved in a way that doesn’t create hard feelings.  It has also allowed people like Donald Trump to more easily weaponize white resentment.

When blame is replaced by responsibility, however, the conversation instantly moves from finger-pointing to solutions, which is what we all need.  The degree to which any one of us is to blame for racial injustice varies greatly, but we are all equally responsible for undoing the damage it causes.  We can start by treating one another with respect and kindness, being willing to learn from our mistakes, and forgiving others when they stumble while they are learning.

The reasons for this are abundantly clear.  The most obvious, and self-serving, reason is that we will soon be a majority-minority country, leaving us a choice between finding a way to live together or engaging in endless confrontation, and our history of coping with internal conflict doesn’t bode well for that.  Beyond that, though, is this simple truth:  the best version of America is that in which each of us can find their best self.

Not only is that a moral truth, it’s a pragmatic truth.  The best way to sink an economy is to use resources unwisely, and human capital is a resource every bit as precious as water and energy. Having a workforce in which some of us are denied the opportunity to reach our full potential limits the growth potential of the economy as a whole.  Capital cannot reach its full potential unless labor reaches its full potential. Producers cannot maximize their wealth unless there is a strong middle class to create a demand for what they produce.  Societies that empower and educate their women have lower population growth and less poverty.

Given that, it is imperative that we pass on to our children an America that embraces tolerance and inclusion.  We can do that through our personal conduct and through the leaders we choose and the causes for which we advocate.  We don’t have to apologize or accept blame for things that happened before we were born or over which we have no control.  But we do need to take responsibility for what happens next.