“That's only the tip of the iceberg,” we often say when we describe something that appears simple and comprehensible but is actually far more complex and massive in scale. The saying comes from the fact that, on average, only 10% of an iceberg is visible over the water, with the rest of the 90% submerged at all times. So, looking at the “tip of the iceberg” is akin to generalizing an idea by looking at only one-tenths of it. And this saying goes for a wide variety of things, from political and social generalizations to problems in mathematics. But there are cases of sweeping generalization and ignorance so severe that even calling it the “tip of the iceberg” would be a gross underestimation. These are the cases where, rather than looking at only the tip of the iceberg, we may be looking at a few specs of dust floating above it, and making statements on the entirety of the iceberg. I'm sure this can be applied to many, equally valid situations, but today, I want to approach the idea of social justice, and specifically racial equality, from this angle.
On April 4 in a small South Carolinian town, eight gunshots rang clearly across the streets as a police officer gunned down a man stopped for a malfunctioning taillight, despite (according to investigations) the greatest threat against the officer being an attempt to take control of his taser. One of the bullets struck his heart, and the victim, Walter Scott, passed away later that day. Initially, immediately after the incident, the reports from the officer seemed to show that he was acting in his own protection from a threatening attacker. But a few days later, as a smartphone video of the incident surfaced, it became clear that the officer was not justified in firing at all towards the victim, let alone 8 shots, at least one of which became fatal.
Video contains violent language and actions.
This incident caught the attention of the media, especially after the release of the video, and it became the latest of the continuing narrative of racial profiling in police shootings across the country that began with Treyvon Martin's death in the recent past. In fact, in the story of racial profiling by certain members of the US police, there are a handful of very noticeable and widely covered “blips” in the radar, including the deaths of Treyvon Martin and Michael Brown (#BlackLivesMatter), Eric Garner's death from suffocation (#ICantBreathe), and the most recent shooting in South Carolina, just earlier this month. But by no means are these publicized incidences the only cases of injustice. While it would be literally impossible to find an exact statistic, I think it is a safe bet to say there are more unjustified murders happening across the country, and an unimaginable number of arrests made and tickets given out on the basis of racial prejudice. And that makes these “blips” in the radar just barely a tip of the iceberg to the much bigger problem we face as a society.
Of course, these prominent tragedies also helped bring the nation's attention to the issue time and time again and fueled movements from wearing t-shirts in high schools* to organized protests in the streets. But like any viral news story, these blips also eventually fade out of many of our lives. I'm ashamed to say I had to dig through last year's news before I remembered the story of Treyvon Martin, and the problem was nearly forgotten in my mind until l read an issue of TIME a few days ago on the case. Unfortunately, I'm sure I"m not the only one. We forget events all too easily when they don't have direct impacts on our lives, and when we do, we're faced with three or four remote cases and bombarded with arguments rather than lead to thoughtful discussions.
I would venture to say that the reason we let go of these serious problems so easily is because we contempt ourselves with caring but not acting. While many social problems go under the radar, some rise above and become the tip of the iceberg we can follow to look closer, to find the problem and improve. But while we fall into a media frenzy for a few days or even weeks after a massively publicized story, we don't chase them. We satisfy ourselves with looking at the tip of the iceberg, recognizing the blips on the radar screen of social justice, and then moving on.
The voices that spoke out and called attention to what they thought were important fell out. Many of them moved on, and we as a society failed to follow through and chase down the problems with the same passion that first brought us to its realization.
A few months ago, I talked about the Black Lives Matter movement and its implications. While the movement itself is still strong and working hard, the incredible support from the rest of the country that stood behind the movement a few months ago just isn't there anymore. The voices that spoke out and called attention to what they thought were important fell out. Many of them moved on, and we as a society failed to follow through and chase down the problems with the same passion that first brought us to its realization.
When countless changes are fueled by the voices of the average people, don't tell me that changes aren't possible. Don't tell me our voices are too weak, because we are not, and the proof has passed us by already.
A few weeks ago, I also discussed how millions of people's voices combined to culminate in a decision to enforce strong regulations for Net Neutrality, keeping the Internet open and opportunistic despite the efforts of corporate lobbying. The people spoke out and the voices were heard because people cared. When these changes are fueled by the voices of the average people, don't tell me that changes aren't possible. Don't tell me our voices are too weak, because we are not, and the proof has passed us by already. What we need most isn't a stronger voice or more financial support. What we need is endurance and consistency to carry our passion though until the blips on the radar screen we once cared so much about are chased down to its roots and solved. And until that time come, we're stuck with the tip of the iceberg.
* By the way, high schools who ban free speech – not cool.
If you enjoyed this piece, you might also enjoy my next post, Change without change.
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