I risk repeating a lot of things that have already been said by people much more brilliant than I am, but I found myself deeply moved by the Zimmerman-Martin Case. However, I do not want to argue for or against the judgment. I merely want to reflect on the ramifications and reactions of this country’s public. Also, I hope my parents don’t mind me putting them in the spotlight a bit (it’s okay Mom and Dad, only like 20 people will read this!)
I have been reading articles and blog posts about this case all week. I was especially moved by this particular blog: http://wearenottrayvonmartin.tumblr.com/. If you have the time please read through some of the posts. They are very interesting and convey poignant views of the present racial situation in America.
I am not Trayvon Martin. I never will be. I am as pale as a full moon and have hair that is redder than Lightning McQueen’s paint-job. I am probably the least intimidating person you will ever meet. I grew up a privileged, white, Christian, male in Dallas, Texas. My childhood looked like the 90s version of Pleasantville. I have lived in a white bubble my whole life. I went to a private school that was 95% white. Those students who weren’t white were well-spoken middle-class kids. I have never been a friend with a Trayvon Martin. I’ve never really known one. I’ll be honest; I get a little nervous around people who come from the “rough side of town.”
My parents, who are products of their generation and upbringing, raised me to be respectful to all people. Both my mother and father are great people. They would never turn away somebody in need because of their skin color. My mother volunteers in West Dallas at a school made up of all African-American and Hispanic children and teachers. My father is a loan officer who has helped many non-white people go from poor, starting out entrepreneurs to successful small business owners. With that said, I was raised apart from people with different culture or different skin color. And like many privileged white citizens of Dallas, my parents are not comfortable in the “bad part of town” or in neighborhoods that clearly aren’t majority white. I would be lying if I said I was not like that myself. I have been raised this way.
So whether George Zimmerman was attacked by young Trayvon Martin and was justified in self-defense or whether he stalked the young man and was looking for an opportunity to shoot the kid doesn’t matter anymore. In my opinion, the real issue is that this guy George Zimmerman felt threatened by a black kid wearing a hoodie walking through his neighborhood. If it had been a group of white teenagers would he have done the same thing? It doesn't even matter that Trayvon was not a Boy Scout or an honors student, and from his text messages it is pretty clear he was a troubled youth. However, there was no way George Zimmerman could have known this just by looking at somebody. The kid currently being tried for the Boston Marathon bombing was well liked and a good student.
I think about my neighborhood back home: Highland Park. I’ve seen groups of kids walking around or driving down the alleys at night. Sure some cops or people might give them hell if they were being rambunctious, but for the most part nobody would give them a second thought. Then I thought, what would happen if a black man was jogging through Highland Park wearing a hoodie and sweats? I’m only dealing with a hypothetical here, but my first impression if I saw such a person would be “well you don’t see that everyday.” I’ve thought a lot about this. It’s really sad that would be my first reaction. If it were a white guy, I would not even think about them, let alone glance at them. However, the fact that somebody’s skin color makes me react differently to him or her means that, well, I’m racist.
This past fall I did my senior history thesis paper on American racism in the turn of the 20th century, and how it affected American foreign policy in the Philippines during the Spanish-American War. As somebody who has grown up in the “old Confederacy,” racism has played an important role in my hometown’s history. Thus, the history of race-relations has always fascinated me. Though until recently, I thought of myself as outside of this issue. It was merely an academic interest. Surely, people weren’t really racist anymore. People of different races were free to swim at the Highland Park pool. They could use the same restroom as me at a Rangers game. As I studied the issue more, I came to the realization that white people are still separate but equal from Black, Hispanic, Arab, Indian, Asian, Native American, or any other people with skin color other than white. We are separated by experience, economic conditions, and culture.
I don’t know if the authorities at Westmont College had a good sense of humor or if it was merely a modern day miracle, but my freshman year I roomed with a Chinese immigrant student named Ted (that was his English name, his birth name is Geng Li). I remember my first reaction was that of excitement and pure terror. I was not scared of living with somebody whose second language was English; I was more worried about my own ignorance. I realized I had never really spent extended amount of time with somebody raised in a completely different culture! It was a year of learning for myself and it was a ton of fun. Ted taught me so much about listening and redefining what it meant to be American.
I was raised in a culture that expects me to succeed. This is very different than the culture of say a poor Hispanic kid from Pleasant Grove grows up in. I never saw gangs or was pressured to be in one. I had parents who got on my case every night to do my homework and would help me if I asked them. As a small child, my parents made it clear to me I was going to college, and it was the only option for me after high school. I am very grateful for all of these things. How many people from Oak Cliff, Irving, Farmers Branch, Pleasant Grove, or even parts of Plano share this experience with me? I have never been given any reason to not trust law enforcement. The only time I was pulled over was because the police officer thought I was too young to be driving. I’ve never been frisked for drugs randomly. I’ve never been “randomly selected” for extra screening at the airport. I’ve never been pulled over for evidence that I am an American citizen. In 2010, black non-Hispanic males were incarcerated at the rate of 4,347 inmates per 100,000 U.S. residents of the same race and gender. White males were incarcerated at the rate of 678 inmates per 100,000 residents. Hispanic males were incarcerated at the rate of 1,755 inmates per 100,000 U.S. residents. The only reason I am not Trayvon Martin is circumstance and genetics.
It is true that brave people such as Rosa Parks and Martin Luther King Jr. have made great strides in regards to Civil Rights. However, there is still a long road ahead to equality. Dr. King always acknowledged that. If there is one thing that I have learned from history, it is that traumatic and violent events or institutions such as slavery have their effects felt for centuries. The Jewish Diaspora, I would argue, is still showing effects even today. As Christians, it was left to us by Jesus to be advocates for the weak, poor, and oppressed. Time and time again the American white Church has failed those who could use their support.
So that has left me with the question what am I to do about this? I don’t think the answer is to go into the ghettos and preach the Gospel. I believe that white churches everywhere should come out and support the peoples’ assertions that racism still exists and admit that it has contributed to the problem. The time is now for the White Church to begin making amends for the support of slavery and segregation. I believe my place during this time should be one of submission. I believe that as privileged white folk, we should merely hear out what the other has to say. We should acknowledge their experience as legitimate. I will be working on my personal prejudices. I will work on rejecting racist views or comments. I will work on my reactions to people of different skin color. I hope that maybe through these actions I might become a recovering racist.
Racism is America’s greatest demon; it has been since its inception. It is time to confront it whether you are Christian or not. There is good news though. America has shown promise in the past for change regarding racism. However, today's racism is not merely political and legal in nature. If America is to change, all of her citizens must stand together and demand change in one voice.