A lot of the time I stay in my own protective bubble. I have a circle of friends who agree with me about most things (though certainly not all) concerning politics, parenting, equality for all people, etc. Sometimes I step outside and find myself confronted with ideas that seem almost foreign after being in the bubble for so long. The media coverage surrounding the death of Trayvon Martin has forced me outside of my bubble, both in face-to-face conversations and some online. There are a few things I want to say before I retreat back inside.
Racism doesn’t have to be overt to be powerful.
I think there are a lot of people who are not overtly racist who still hold unconscious prejudices. I also believe that in many ways it’s much more difficult to combat subtle racism than overt racism. It does us no good, as individuals or as a society, to pretend racism is a solved problem. I think people who belong to the majority should spend more time listening than talking and try to be less defensive so they can learn and grow. I myself know that I have latent prejudices of which I’m not proud (I’ve even had to overcome prejudices against my own gender!). Ideas that I’ve been culturally immersed in since childhood can be hard to escape and at times have taken me completely by surprise. This case will ultimately be handled by the authorities and the lawyers. But the rest of us have the opportunity to have honest discourse about the questions it has raised.
Yes, this case is, at least in part, about race.
It is a race issue, though as I stated above, not necessarily overtly so. I think Mr. Zimmerman, much like many people, was more likely to be suspicious of a large, black male than a white male of equal size, dressed the same way. Regardless of the case at hand, which will and should be decided locally, we have the opportunity to examine these latent prejudices. This has become a media storm for a reason, reasons that have nothing to do with Trayvon Martin or George Zimmerman. It’s because of this underlying current of tension that continues to exist in many places between different racial groups. We can either be defensive and claim the tensions don’t exist or we can take the opportunity to try to do better.
It is possible to to have black friends and still be racist.
After my friends were murdered by their (white) teenage neighbors I developed an unconscious prejudice against boys in their late teens. I would get nervous when confronted with a group of adolescent boys while walking down the street. I would automatically be more suspicious that they were “up to something”. Thankfully I eventually recognized this prejudice and where it came from but it took some work on my part to overcome it.
But here’s the thing- I never felt this way around kids I knew, or even kids I could put into some sort of comfortable context. If I knew them, knew someone who knew them or saw them in a place I’d expect to see kids their age I was fine. Even friendly. Not so much out of that context. I had a definite prejudice. (And it should go without saying, but probably doesn’t, that just because my prejudice was understandable it wasn’t okay.)
So, having black friends does not mean you have no prejudices. Hopefully you have fewer, and maybe you have none. But please don’t parade your black acquaintances out as proof of your lack of prejudice.
Describing fashion trends that are more popular in one culture than another is not proof of the wearers thuggery.
He had dreads- lots of people I know have dreads. Yes, in one picture (I’m not sure it was a picture of Trayvon, the source I saw was unclear) he had a gold grill on his teeth. Not everyone who follows this trend is a dangerous criminal. Yes, lots of criminals do have grills. Lots of criminals also carry guns but it isn’t fair for me to assume that everyone who carries a gun (which can actually harm me while a grill is just a silly fashion trend) is a criminal.
Trayvon doesn’t have to be perfect for this to be tragic.
As for the school suspension, drug use does not automatically equal dangerous either. Lots of people I know, people I grew up with, have or even continue to use pot. A misdemeanor crime does not equal dangerous criminal. If it did then every person who’s ever traveled over the speed limit (which actually puts others in danger while personal drug use does not) would be considered dangerous. I’ve never believed or claimed Trayvon was a perfect child who never did anything wrong- I’m a parent, I know that doesn’t really exist. But none of that is relevant to the case at hand.
Yes, horrible things have happened to other people and the media didn’t jump on it.
There are lots and lots of criminal cases that aren’t reported on by the national media. People of all races do horrible things to people of other races. And statistically speaking they generally reserve most of their violence for people of the same race. However, I’ve seen a lot of cases cited about black on white crime that didn’t garner national media coverage. The cases I’ve seen cited were not, in my opinion, the same issue as what’s being questioned about the death of Trayvon Martin. The issue here arose because charges weren’t filed and no reason was forthcoming (despite the fact that this PD is normally very forthcoming about such things). Citing cases where the perpetrator has been apprehended and charged is, in my opinion, a perfect example of underlying assumptions that people are only speaking out because a black kid got killed. That’s not what the outrage is about. It’s about a family seeking out media help to get answers they weren’t given.
Stand and defend cuts both ways.
I find it really interesting that so many are crying foul and saying that people shouldn’t jump to conclusions about Zimmerman yet many of the arguments they pose make all sorts of assumptions about Martin. Trayvon Martin’s girlfriend alleged that he asked someone, “Why are you following me,” just before the line went dead (and phone records corroborate her timeline). I am baffled that people who are willing to give Zimmerman the benefit of the doubt and assume self-defense when they discover that Martin struck him don’t want to give Martin the same benefit. Isn’t striking someone who is pursuing you with a gun and then trying to disarm that person a strong case for self-defense? I am NOT saying that Zimmerman is guilty because all of the facts aren’t in and I believe in innocent until proven guilty. However I think the dead teenager should be given at least the same consideration as the shooter.
One final* thought.
Saying I never think about race only points out your own privilege. The only people who never think about race are the people who don’t have to.
I do mean final. I’ve spent way too much time debating these things over the past several days. My heart hurts. I am dismayed by some of the things people have said to my face. (Many of which I didn’t discuss here because they were truly awful.) You can comment but debate style comments will be deleted. I’m too emotionally spent to face any more debate about this now. My blog, my rules.