By Joseph Harris
The evening of July 13th will remain a night I remember for a long time. It was the night a jury in the United States made it a capital crime to be a young black man. There is, of course a lot about this case we will never know. We do know there were two people present and one killed the other. So we will only have one perspective to go on. But here are a few facts:
1. A young man went out to buy candy and a drink
2. That young man then walked home
3. He was shot
4. He had committed no crime
5. He was executed and left in the street to die
We should be able to come to a common consensus that the above scenario is outrageous and heartbreaking.
But instead of being able to come to that consensus there has been a societal fracture. There is a section of the country that does not seem to understand the pain and outrage of the other. I will refrain from lazy generalizations here. In the last 72 hours countless White friends, family and allies expressed their disgust and outrage at the verdict. But there has sadly been an equally large if not larger amount of people in the White community who are not only unsympathetic, but at times seemingly gleeful at the verdict. I can only surmise that those people fall into one of a few categories.
The “color blind” are sure that we are in a post racial society, and if we would just stop talking about race, the problem would solve itself. They don’t think race was involved. In fact, they are offended when anyone brings it up. In their eyes, Zimmerman saw a strange person in his neighborhood and acted appropriately. Zimmerman acted how they would have acted, or how they would want someone to act on their behalf. The problem with that viewpoint is that it ignores Zimmerman’s questionable remarks about how “they” always get away. Let us not be naïve in thinking that Zimmerman was talking about redheaded left handers. Additionally we are not, nor have we ever been, in a post racial society. Race has been woven into the very fabric of this country, to not acknowledge it is to willingly and irresponsibly put one’s own head into the sand.
There is another section of society; I call them “the scared”. They believe that Trayvon was a gun toting, drug addled, punk who deserved what he got. Trayvon was every 6’1, gold teeth, sagging pants, Negro nightmare come to steal their BMW’s and daughters. Or in the words of Ted Nugent Trayvon Martin was a: “dope-smoking, dope-peddling, gangsta wannabe, Skittles hoodie boy.” Let’s assume that for one minute Trayvon was all of these things, let’s assume that instead of a pretty typical teenager, he was all of those things Mr. Nugent accuses him of being. It is not a capital crime in this country to be a dope-smoking, dope-peddling, gangsta wannabe, Skittles hoodie boy.
There is a reason we are a nation of judges, juries, law and order. It’s because No one wants to live in the wild wild west where cattle rustlers are hung by their necks until they are dead. It’s because no one wants neighborhoods turned into armed camps. No one has once talked about Trayvon’s right to stand his ground. But he didn’t, he ran away from the conflict, the 9-1-1 tapes attest to this fact. Zimmerman said “he’s running” and then you hear Zimmerman chasing him. I don’t know too many gangsta wannabe’s that run when given a chance to instigate a confrontation. If Trayvon was a gangsta wannabe, he gave no indication of it. Was it the gangsta in him that made him buy skittles, or iced tea, or was it gansta of him to dare to breathe air in the same zip code as Mr. Zimmerman?
The third group seems to be the “uniformed”. They are the group of people who have watched 3 episodes of The Wire, have 3 Black friends on facebook, and once shared a Mountain Dew with a black co-worker, so “they know black people”. These people are sad, because we poor infantile black folk have been tricked by the race hustling black leaders. We would all be happy Americans if it weren’t for the NAACP, Al Sharpton and Jesse Jackson fanning the flames of racism. It sounds suspiciously like the argument The South used when SNCC went to register black voters. “Our Negros were fine until you came along whipping them all up into a frenzy”.
There are multiple problems with that argument. First, it suggests that there is some sort of hive mind mentality and that black folk are unable to navigate the complex socio-political realities of these United States without a helping hand. Secondly, it infantizes Black people and intentionally underestimates our ability to reason and analyze information. Lastly, this illogical argument only seems to be used when it comes to matters of race.
No one says to the Pro-lifers, “you know abortions would stop happening if you guys would stop bringing them up, these baby mongering Arch bishops and pastors are whipping you up into frenzy”. No one tells AIPAC, “you know Anti-Semitism would just disappear if you guys would just stop it with the Nazi stuff already, these rabbis have you whipped up into frenzy”. Only when it comes to matters of race are Black people told to sit down and shut up; and by the way, your leaders are leading you astray.
I am a father of a son, a brown son, who will one day eat skittles, who will one day drink ice tea, who will one day go to the store. And I will want him to come back. I don’t need a leader to tell me that a teenager should be able to go to a store in his neighborhood without ending up profiled, stalked and murdered.
For those allies out there, I give my thanks. You have been a breath of fresh air in an otherwise rancid situation. For the rest, I ask you a few questions. What would it look like if you capitulated that black people know more about being black in America than you do? What would it be like if racism still does exist and raises its head from time to time regardless of the amount of melanin in our current President’s skin tone? What would it be like if instead of playing the race card, we were genuinely afraid for our sons and daughters?
I leave you with this thought; Dr. King said "The arc of history is long, but it bends toward justice.” And I will add, it has never been known to sympathize with those who participated, defended or cheered for a lynching.
Joseph Harris is a husband, father of two and a Michigan State University graduate student.
This was printed in the July 28, 2013 - August 10, 2013 Edition