Wednesday, April 4, 2012

we belong

If you follow the news at all, chances are you're tired of hearing about the Trayvon Martin tragedy. Everyone's talking about it. Hey, the incident already has its own Wikipedia entry. Yup, that was the link I gave you. Sorry. And when everyone's reacting and re-reacting and every political agenda out there is trying to use it for their angle, it's easy to develop tinnitus. Underneath the hype, though, there is usually a problem that deserves attention, not a deaf ear.

Here, it is my intent to share the things I think command a long, hard look by us all. I want to honor the memory of Trayvon, help us realize that his shooter is just as human as you and I, and to remind us again that violence does not end when the larger power brings out the biggest gun. Violence ends when two people look each other in the eye and see someone just like them. A person with dreams, with fears, with family. With a life ahead of them that no one has the authority to take. 

First off, I think it's far too convenient for everyone's conscience to demonize Zimmerman and paint him as a racially prejudiced, power-hungry opportunist. I don't know him. Maybe he is. But, because I don't know him, I'm going to give him the benefit of the doubt. We all have errors of judgment and results we regret. If we demonize him, we don't have to face that we often see things as they aren't and do hurtful things.

But I do in no way think it is demonizing to Zimmerman to say he was wrong. I don't care if Trayvon was suspended from school on drug charges. I simply don't care. That is totally irrelevant to the case, as there is no way Zimmerman could have known so. Even if he had, that would have been no reason for him to confront Trayvon for wearing a hoodie and carrying Skittles and an Arizona iced tea. I don't care if Trayvon scuffled with Zimmerman when he was confronted. I wish he hadn't, because he likely further jeopardized his safety. Not only is responding violently to a threat not the way of Jesus, but (like I tell my teens all the time), it's more dangerous. Science proves that the instigator gets an adrenaline rush when he is met with returned threat. This actually makes him stronger and sharpens his fight/flight impulses (sorry about the psychology term). So, while I'm not saying Trayvon was right to engage in the tussle, I can understand why he did. If, in fact, that is what happened. I know a bit of street law, but I know my teens better. And I know that every single one of their reactions to an armed, un-uniformed big dude of a different race's following them and yelling would be this thought: "I'm fighting for my life." Even if Zimmerman didn't go into that situation wanting to kill Trayvon (which, God have mercy, I hope he didn't), I can understand how it happened. But it should not have. Should not. I'm sorry, but, in terms of self-defense, Skittles are no match for a gun. Neither is an Arizona, no matter how delicious.

Trayvon is gone. Horrible. Tragic. But fact. Instead of long focus on who was right and who was wrong, we need to ask "what now"? How do we do justice for Trayvon, his family, his friends? Incarceration or any mistreatment of Zimmerman will not help them heal. It will not bring about a world where teens can walk home without fear of being followed and shot.

Since the can of worms words called "racism" has been opened over this tragedy, I'm diving in. Whether or not it shaped Zimmerman's choice to confront Trayvon, it's not as far from home as I'd like to think. When I was living in the city, an incident happened on my street that still makes me cringe to think about. An argument between neighbors attracted the attention of the police patrol. They arrived, waving guns and yelling. This really didn't help anyone calm down, and my friend walked out to talk to the neighbors and see if he could be of help in restoring peace before things got out of control. He strolled up, hands in pockets. When the police saw him, they lowered their guns, stopped yelling, and very respectfully said, "I'm sorry, sir, but I'm going to have to ask you to step back." My friend felt sick to his stomach when he realized what could have happened and what did. He was white, well-dressed (as he had just returned from Bible study), and the police were white. Why did they treat him differently than our neighbors? If he had been black and walked up with his hands in his pockets, the sad truth is that he probably would have been shot on the spot. His death would have been ruled accidental because the police would have assumed he was armed. Did the (white) police have a conscious hatred of African-Americans and Latinos? I'd like to think not. But what kept my friend safe is this: they identified with him. As a result, they acted sensibly.

Racism's bottom line is a lack of empathy with people different in some way from me. Color, socioeconomic status, lifestyle choice, religion, gender, political preference, size of family, brand of clothes... the list is endless of things that make us look at each other and say, "He is not like me. And I like me better." Instead of viewing diversity as the one of the biggest things that gives color and interest to our lives, we feel completely justified in blocking ourselves off from those who don't look like us. We feel justified (isn't this senseless?) in not having to try to see ourselves and the world from their perspective. This justification is prejudice, and prejudice makes us, thoughtlessly or intentionally, do heartless, senseless things.

Prejudice is ugly, but we all have our little ones. Or not so little. We don't naturally empathize with others, especially if we don't take the time to know them. To understand them. What conscious effort are you taking to push back the boundaries of your understanding? Who can you befriend that broadens the scope of your identifiers? What places can you frequent that help you connect with people you tend to avoid? What books can you read that help you realize your world is much, much bigger than you and... while your culture and your individual have much to offer... you and your culture have a lot to learn from the vast spectrum of diversity in your world?

What can you do to show you identify with others?

I walked to the gas station wearing a hoodie. I didn't wear it as a statement, but thought about all the hoodie-wearing demonstrations for Trayvon Martin as I put it on. And I tweeted something snarky like "I hope I don't get shot." Forgive me, but sometimes I make cynical jokes about things that really disturb me. I passed a guy wearing a hoodie even bigger than my guy's-size-large, could-almost-be-a-dress, epitome-of-comfort hoodie. He was black. I was white. He was a guy. I was a girl. His head had a doo rag. Mine had a veil. But we looked at each other in recognition and smiled.

1 comment:

Johanna said...

Ahh...absolutely loved your last line. Thank you so much for writing this post. It it just so horrible to think about this kid being killed. I think of how I'd feel if it were my kid and it all outrages me. It just shouldn't have happened.

A couple days ago I read Sojourner Truth's biography and it was amazing. I am in no way racist for sure, but reading the story of her life just helped me to further identify with my black brothers and sisters and the reality of what they've had to endure. I love all people. Thanks again.