Troy D. Smith
March 29, 2012
Everyone in America knows by now about the situation in Florida, and the shooting of Trayvon Martin. I've been having a running conversation about it on my Facebook page, and I am disheartened by how many people are focusing on the defense of Zimmerman and the culpability of Trayvon, and decrying the fact that, according to them, some people are trying to make this about race when it is not. Quite a few other friends have called for restraint on the part of those of us who are incensed by the circumstances surrounding this innocent young man's death- they're not defending Zimmerman, but the system, or at the very least calling for reason and rationality before jumping to conclusions about racism. I know they mean well- many of the folks I refer to are my best friends, and people I respect deeply.
I am willing to admit that those friends make some good points, and that many- including myself -have rushed to judgment (although many others have rushed to judgment in the other extreme.) I have another observation to make, and I hope it won't be misinterpreted -and that you read on to the end to see what my interpretation is. My initial Facebook post has gotten a lot of comments- a large number of people have expressed support for my viewpoint by "liking" and/or commenting, often sharing my outrage, and a significant number -about one-third of those commenting -have taken me to task for jumping the gun, not waiting for the facts, etc. Those who agreed with me represent a pretty good cross-section of my friends, so far as race, gender, and even political beliefs go. So far, everyone who disagreed has been a white male. Now don't get excited- I'm not saying that the people who disagreed with me are racists, or even denying that they raise good points... nor am I ascribing a particular political point of view to them, as some of those folks generally tend to be liberal. I am only observing that everyone so far who has approached this discussion with "reason" before "outrage" has been a white male (and there have been plenty of white males on the other side of the argument, as well, myself obviously included.) My interpretation of this is that often, we who are on the dominant end of the social spectrum and are accustomed to being so -white males -don't understand the outrage, sometimes "unreasonable" outrage, of those who are not, based on their lived experience. We don't live that experience, and it takes serious work for us to get a glimmer of it. If we did, we would KNOW why "we feel such a strong need to assume, squeeze, and shape interpretations." I want to once more emphasize and re-iterate that I'm not accusing any of those commenters (my friends) of being racists; I am making an observation about how we white guys (again, myself included) have our OWN opinions shaped by white privilege, often without realizing it. It is a lot easier to be the calm, rational one about something like this when we're not the ones affected by it every day, our whole lives.
It is a sad fact that walking down the street being black in this country automatically makes you suspicious... just like driving a car while you're black makes you much more likely to be pulled over even if you've broken no traffic laws. So far as I'm concerned the main thing that everyone debating Zimmerman's relative guilt or innocence is missing is this one basic fact- Zimmerman called the cops and then followed this kid through the rainy night because the kid was clearly "up to no good" and probably on drugs... based on nothing more than the fact he was walking down the street being black. That could have been any black family's kid. And THAT fact makes it all very much about race, because it clearly demonstrates, as if we needed it demonstrated any more, that racism is alive and well in America... and that's why people of color, and allies concerned with social justice, are up in arms, why they/we are so angry that their/our reaction is more impassioned than reasoned... and it is only amplified by the fact that there are so many people who just don't get it, just don't realize why it's such a big deal, just don't realize why we don't just get over it, just don't get what this whole situation symbolizes or why. And that means they're not seeing the problem, and in fact are blaming those who DO see it for all the fuss. Race has not gone away, will not go away, EVER, until the people who benefit from being on the top of the racialized social hierarchy around which this country was built acknowledge it and repudiate it, instead of ignoring, minimizing, or denying it. Lots of white people DO try to do this, although as humans none of us can do it perfectly, but we who work at it prove that it can be done... if we stop being defensive, look at ourselves and our culture honestly, and swear that it does not have to be so. Not swear that it is NOT, or never was, or used to be, or that the only problem is all those touchy people who just won't get over it. Acknowledge that this is how our culture IS, but that it doesn't HAVE to be; listen to the voices of the oppressed instead of blaming them for being too noisy about it, and instead of hearing our own denials and justifications.
And that begins with education. My biggest goal in life is to do all I can to help people understand where the social construct we call race came from, how it works, and how we got to be where we are. I don't just teach history, I preach history, and this is the gospel I am trying to spread. A lot of my fiction revolves around this, and I've written several essays on the subject (not to mention a dissertation.) You'll have to wait for the book where the dissertation is concerned, but the essays can be found in the previous posts of this blogsite.
It doesn't matter how many black men get elected President: there will continue to be friction, misunderstandings, frustration, anger, and turmoil until we who are at the top of the racial hierarchy face up to the truths of how it has worked to our benefit, stop denying it, stop being defensive about it... admit it, and reject it. Racism, overt or subconscious, is just like any other addiction... we can't break it until we admit it is there. Even in ourselves.
Especially in ourselves.
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