Home / Dr. Steven E. Sokol / Standing United in an Unprecedented Time

Standing United in an Unprecedented Time

We are at a very precarious moment in our history.

The unconscionable killing of George Floyd almost two weeks ago has sparked the worst nationwide racial upheaval in 50 years. It has unleashed deep-rooted anger and pain over the longstanding racial injustice in our country.

The current charged environment serves as a call to action. While the news has been dominated by reports about unacceptable violence instigated by a variety of actors, it is heartening to see so many people of different colors and faiths coming together (notwithstanding concerns about social distancing) to march peacefully for change, as well as police officers in some communities taking a knee with protesters in common cause.

The civil rights crisis playing out in communities across the country is just one of three major crises happening simultaneously – any one of which would have proven to be challenging in the best of times.

Let’s not forget that we are in the midst of the worst global health crisis in a century. In the United States, nearly 110,000 people have succumbed to COVID-19 – and a disproportionate number of those who have died are black or brown.

The United States is in the grip of the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression. Many businesses have been shuttered for 10 weeks – and just as states try to reopen those same businesses are now boarded up to keep looters at bay. More than 40 million Americans have lost their jobs. Food banks are overwhelmed.

This country is deeply divided, and against this backdrop the United States appears weakened and diminished. On multiple levels, the United States has reduced its global engagement and withdrawn from leadership roles within the multilateral organizations it helped create. The global order we helped build over the past 75 years is in disarray. It isn’t hard to imagine that we could be challenged somewhere on the world stage by someone wanting to take advantage of these circumstances.

It has been heartbreaking to follow these developments. Like you, I am deeply pained and concerned about what has been happening. And, the world is watching. From demonstrations in places like Berlin and London in support of Black Lives Matter and against police brutality to authoritarian regimes, the eyes of the world are on the United States.

No matter what words are used to describe the police killings of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and Tony McDade, and the murder of Ahmaud Arbery – “tragic,” “brutal,” “abhorrent,” “senseless” – words are not enough. In our homes, our places of work, on the streets, and across the nation, people are scared, angry, grieving, and fed up.

Uncertainty is fueling these feelings. The pandemic and its economic consequences have exposed new levels of social injustice. As the virus has spread, it has triggered widespread frustration and exposed deep social cleavages of color, class, and privilege. Not all of us have the luxury of being able to work from home. Essential workers on the front lines of the pandemic are disproportionately of color. The sad truth of the moment is that the common public health and economic challenge which should have brought us together is now dividing us.

Putting an end to systemic racism here in the United States and around the world is going to require us all to engage like never before.

Founded in 1952, the American Council on Germany was created to educate and inform Americans about contemporary Germany in the aftermath of two world wars during the first half of the 20th century. By seeking reconciliation and building mutual understanding between former adversaries, the ACG has been able to buttress what has become an indispensable relationship between our two countries.

We have come a long way since the dark days of the 1940s and legally sanctioned racism, but the current crises have demonstrated that there is still a long road ahead…

This is a traumatic time as we struggle to come to terms with the coronavirus crisis and its public health fallout and economic implications. Faced with a global pandemic which will not be under control anytime soon, more than 40 million Americans out of work, waning confidence in democratic institutions and practices, a breakdown in multilateral cooperation, and the largest wave of civil unrest since 1968, reconciliation and deeper mutual understanding are more important than ever before.

In an effort to bring us together, the ACG remains committed to continuing to create fora to discuss complex social issues affecting communities in Europe and the United States, such as social cohesion, equity, the digital divide, urban affairs, and education. Last year, the ACG held discussions in several American cities about the fraying social fabric and social inequality in Germany and the United States, and we are committed to continuing to address these important topics in the months ahead.

As we fight the myriad repercussions of a global pandemic and also work to overcome inequality and heal deep societal wounds at home, I am reminded that we live in a world of challenges that know no international boundaries. Increasingly, we must work together – at home and abroad – to bring the peace and prosperity that defined the last 70 years to all of our citizens, regardless of their race, color, or creed. In doing this, we need to engage with our partners.

This is a critical juncture for the United States – and for the world as a whole. How we navigate the coming days, weeks, months, and even years will be crucial.

At the ACG, we are talking about how to respond to these multiple crises. We believe that engagement is what moves people toward a deeper understanding and empathy. So we are looking at ways our work can better focus on responding to the pernicious and unresolved social issues that have led to anger and division. We will keep engaging in dialogue and the open exchange of ideas while asking the hard questions – even when it is difficult and uncomfortable.

As we go down this road, I hope you will join us. We welcome your ideas and encourage you to contact me or any of my colleagues at the ACG with suggestions as we work on these issues together.

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