In the aftermath of the “not guilty” verdict in the trial of George Zimmerman over the death of Trayvon Martin, I’ve been astounded at the lengths to which some white folks have gone to defend the jury’s decision in terms of issues of race. With respect, sincerely, will those who deny that “race” is, or should be, an issue in this discussion please pause and educate yourselves?
The denial of racism in this case, and throughout the criminal justice system in the United States (as well as in every measurable social indicator from housing and employment to education and health care), is born of ignorance. Such thoughts may be well-intentioned and sincerely held by people who consider themselves good citizens who oppose racism, but those thoughts are wrong.
I wrote two posts shortly after Trayvon Martin Died. I’ve re-posted Thoughts from a White Parent and The Specter of White Supremacy since the verdict last week. They include links to multiple articles and opinion pieces shine a light on the powerful impact that racism continues to have on all of us today.
President Obama, who has rarely spoken about racism at all since he became a national figure, spoke out today. Watching our President’s full statement is enlightening and important. Watch here.
“You know, when Trayvon Martin was first shot, I said that this could have been my son. Another way of saying that is Trayvon Martin could have been me 35 years ago. And when you think about why, in the African- American community at least, there’s a lot of pain around what happened here. I think it’s important to recognize that the African- American community is looking at this issue through a set of experiences and a history that — that doesn’t go away.”
It doesn’t go away until we – all of us – make it go away. The first step is understanding and acknowledging the persistent and significant effect that racism, the legacy of slavery, continues to have today.
I encourage my white readers (I write “white readers” specifically and thoughtfully because I believe we have most of the responsibility to learn and change and act) to read three articles I found particularly enlightening this week. The first is written by a black woman in a blog called Candid Observations. Her entry is entitled “The President, Racism, and Trayvon Martin” –
“Many whites really do not understand, nor do they believe, that African-Americans have the struggles we have had since …forever. Whites complain about us complaining; they say we ‘whine,’ and perhaps some of us do; perhaps all of us do at certain times.
“But we also live lives on the edge. I as a mother had ‘the conversation’ with my son about how to act if stopped by police. I worried about him when he got to be a teen, more so than any parent of a teen worries. I had to warn him to be careful. I had ‘the conversation’ about how it isn’t all that safe to be black in America, in spite of his protestations that perhaps I was being too dramatic. Times have changed, Ma, he said.
“Well, maybe not so much. Or at least not enough.”
The second is written by a black man, Charles M. Blow, in the New York Times. His column is titled “Barack and Trayvon” –
“On Friday the president reached past one man and one boy and one case in one small Florida town, across centuries of slavery and oppression and discrimination and self-destructive behavior, and sought to place this charged case in a cultural context.
“It can be too easy when speaking of race, bias, stereotypes and inequality to arrive at simplistic explanations. There is often a tendency to separate legacy traumas and cultural conditioning from personal responsibility, but it cannot be done. The truth is that racial realities are complicated, weaving all these factors into a single fabric.”
The third is written by a white man, Tom Hayden, from the Peace & Justice Resource Center. His essay is entitled, “Trayvon Died for Our Sins” –
“The evidence of a violently divided America can be understood in the failure of the criminal justice system, where rationality and objectivity are supposed to prevail. In the case of Trayvon and countless others, however, the courts are where objectivity comes to an end.
“The six jurors almost surely did not see themselves as driven by racial prejudice or stereotypes, but were in the grip of those stereotypes unconsciously.”
“Unconsciously.” Therein lies the challenge for white people. Most of us (including the most progressive and enlightened of us) have been raised in a society designed to maintain such unconsciousness. Oh, sure, we all read about, and are appalled at, major incidents of racism. We support the vision (as we understand it) of Martin Luther King, Jr. Yet we regularly do not see how racism impacts people of color in multiple ways, virtually every day of their lives. Thus we don’t understand why black people view the verdict in the trial so differently than many white people do.
In order for racism, and all forms of oppression and inequity, to actually end, we – white people – must overcome such “unconsciousness.”