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Race, Trayvon Martin and Our National Wake Up Call

The verdict is in. Now what?

As the trial of George Zimmerman wound down in a Florida courtroom this past week, I had traveled to visit loved ones in a posh neighborhood in Atlanta.

Having traveled a good distance and wanting to stretch my legs, I took a walk through the area and marveled at the luxurious homes. Jeff Foxworthy lived in one. Usher lived in another. Players for the Atlanta Braves lived in several others. I didn’t actually see any of these people—I didn’t see any people who weren’t in luxury cars and SUVs—but I knew they were in there someplace.

As I huffed and puffed up winding hills, I found myself thinking about Usher’s young sons. One is 5 years old. One is 4. In a few years they’ll be driving and walking on the same streets on which I was doing my cardio. I’m certain that whatever vehicles they’ll be driving will certainly earn them a finger-wave or an up-nod acknowledgement from other passing drivers.

The verdict on a fearful armed citizen is behind us. Now is the time for many of us to wake up. It’s time to listen.


But what if they’re on foot?

If they’re on foot, they might be in trouble. If they’re on foot, they better be dressed to the nines. If they’re watched, which they will be, or followed, which I hope they won’t be, good manners might possibly become a matter of life and death. As I pounded the pavement of the privileged, I felt afraid for these precious ones, who will soon inhabit man-bodies, to be seen on the streets of their own neighborhood.

Let me be clear up front: the point of this piece is not to debate the jury's verdict on George Zimmerman. A different ruling would not have changed the reality we face. The death of an unarmed teenager is now behind us. The verdict on a fearful armed citizen is behind us. Now is the time for many of us to wake up. It’s time to start listening.

Before the Trayvon Martin shooting, I didn’t know enough to feel that horrible fear. Since then, I’ve struck up useless conversations with my adopted son in the Apple store in order to let scowling salespeople know he’s with me. He’s legit. He’s covered in the umbrella of my white privilege. But because he’s South Asian, he will be excused from a good deal of the scrutiny African American boys face.

I didn’t come to know this on my own. In fact, over the last year or so, I’ve been schooled by a black mother. The heartbreaking death of Trayvon Martin has provided several windows of opportunity for a friend here in Durham, N.C. to gently educate me about the realities of raising a black son in this country. It was a direct result of her honest sharing that I knew to be a little bit scared for Usher’s boys.

Val* has graciously given me a few glimpses into the everyday life of her family.

I learned that if she asks her son to deliver a package to the private Christian school that’s housed in a wing of the large mostly white church where he was raised, he will get anxious looks from every single classroom teacher he has to pass on his way to the school’s office.

I discovered that—before and since Trayvon—Val begged her teenage son not to wear his hoodie, even on cold mornings, when driving around in their family minivan. Having a warm head on cold mornings is simply a risk she doesn’t want him to take.

I even heard that Val asks her husband not to jog at night in their affluent neighborhood. When he does, she worries until he returns.

As a wife and as a mother, what Val can’t afford to not think about is this: anyone in her neighborhood who might be out walking their dog after dark does not want to turn around and see a black man in sweats running toward them. So, her husband runs in broad daylight. Her husband—a grown man created in God’s image, who owns a home, is gainfully employed and raising three children—does not exercise outside after dark. (I could have stopped after “God’s image.”)

If we refuse to listen to the stories of our brothers and sisters ... we will continue to be baffled by the next judicial verdict that will again tear open our country’s tender racial wound.

As might have been predicted—in light of Rodney King, O.J. Simpson and Michael Jackson—much of America’s response to the George Zimmerman “not guilty” verdict has been split along racial lines. Largely, people of color have recognized the incident as one of many signs of perpetual systematic injustice. Largely, white folks have seen this as an isolated incident—not a sign of a systematic injustice. Zimmerman—they say, and the jury agrees—was technically within his rights.

While there is a place for a debate about what that ruling may or may not mean, our first step must be to open up to a reality outside our personal experience. If we refuse to listen to the stories of our brothers and sisters in this moment, refuse to acknowledge the ongoing reality of a country in which young men cannot wear hoods on a chilly morning, we—people with and without privilege—will continue to be baffled by the next judicial verdict that will again tear open our country’s tender racial wound.

If you have ears to hear, I beg you to listen.

133 Comments

John-Amanda Wilcox

1

John-Amanda Wilcox commented…

50 years ago racism existed because African-Americans were lynched, harassed and segregated. Now it has been reduced to "Someone looks at me strangely when I go to that white church down the street". 20 years ago I could go to the black church around the corner and not think a thing of it, now when I see an African-American I ask, does that person think I am a racist because I am white. Narrative.

David

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David replied to John-Amanda Wilcox's comment

As a white man, I cannot attend the annual MLK services at his church in Atlanta. I would not be welcome there. It's a sad fact.

Bobby Henry

3

Bobby Henry replied to David's comment

Like really, you are feeling sorry for yourself because of this? Firstly, I doubt this is the case. I've never brought a white friend to church and had them feel unwelcome. If anything, they've told me black churches are way warmer than white churches. Secondly, let's say that it is, have you ever asked yourself why? Have you ever asked why a community that has been systematically oppressed and degraded by your community may harbour some ill will towards you? Why they might on a day when they are remembering a community hero that was gunned down in what was basically a racially motivated attack, feel a little hostile? I'm not saying that they do, or that it would be right that they would, but have you ever tried to understand why? I would challenge you to go to the service and see what response you get. And if someone is hostile, engage with them, ask them why.

David

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David replied to Bobby Henry's comment

I don't feel sorry Bobby. Keep in mind that I am not talking about all black churches on every given Sunday.

I am talking about MLK day in downtown Atlanta. I've seen who speaks on those days. A white man is not welcome there as they are doing nothing but perpetuating victimization rather than celebrating the life of MLK and the progress than has been made. My beliefs conservative beliefs are directly attacked there every year.

"And if someone is hostile, engage with them, ask them why."

If I engage anyone in a debate during that service I will be thrown out. Have you seen who attends that service? Have you ever watched it on TV? I suggest you do. It's not a church service. It's a political rally for Democrats.

Brandon Caples

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Brandon Caples commented…

Let's not forget that there's a spectrum on both sides, from a subtle "racial discomfort" to blatant, hate-filled racism. Trayvon Martin's death was tragic. But let's consider something else that is atrocious in my eyes: this trial was purposefully made into a racial divider, with prominent figures on both "sides" coming up with ridiculous excuses for "their guy" and his actions.

Last year, Chicago alone had more than 500 youths murdered in black-on-black crime. Other cities have similar statistics. So *why* was it so important to make this trial a national issue? Are those other killings not important? On the other hand, Zimmerman's supporters had some of the lousiest injections into the ongoing conversation. They claimed that he was a gangster wannabe, regularly used drugs, *wore his hoodie suspiciously*, and was on his way that night to buy ingredients for a race-specific beverage. They attacked his character and played into common conservative beliefs and fears in order to further divide the nation. It's all shameful.

We may never be able to fill in the gaps of that fateful night, but from what I understand, both Zimmerman and Martin made some bad decisions. And for some people to *celebrate* the verdict is just as heinous as those who threatened to kill people who resemble the defendant.

It seems to me like, although we often walk around with an undeserved sense of moral superiority, we're still as divided as ever. And we don't want to solve this problem because then we'd have to work together (with these people we secretly fear).

I hope the next generation understands Christ's unconditional love.

David

12

David replied to Brandon Caples's comment

I agree mostly with you on this.

The only reason why Trayvon's past ever comes up is because he is made out to be 100% innocent in this and that there was no reason at all for Zimmerman to be suspicious. Those are not to be brought up to justify a shameful fear, but to balance the debate. Zimmerman wasn't a saint either and suffered from a hero complex. To not discuss Trayvon's background though is to idolize him as a martyr which he should not be.

"And for some people to *celebrate* the verdict is just as heinous as those who threatened to kill people who resemble the defendant."

We have a really good idea of what happened. We have a better idea of how evidence was withheld, how the prosecution over charged, how Zimmerman was not sent first to a grand jury and there was also overwhelming media bias throughout. To NOT celebrate that there Zimmerman still somehow got a fair trail would be wrong.

There is NOTHING wrong celebrating when the justice system works. There is something wrong with condemning someone in the court of public opinion or striking out because you don't like the verdict or demanding that more trials take place putting someone in double jeopardy... We're leaving liberty and justice behind for mob rule.

Veronica Ussery Perez

10

Veronica Ussery Perez commented…

The responsibility to behave appropriately was on both Zimmerman and Martin that night. They both made choices that contributed to Martin's death. It is dishonest to say otherwise.

The article and so many of the responses to it implies that ALL white people are racist. I find that sentiment extremely offensive, divisive, and racist! And it brings out the defensive side of me to scream NO and start arguing my point! I don't think we are really UNDERSTANDING each other. Now, how do we get there?

I also find it interesting that the black community find the loss of Martin a greater tragedy because of the race of the person that took his life than the fact that so many black people lose their lives at the hands of another black men. It devalues the lives of the other black people that are prematurely killed. And this is racist, divisive, and offensive.

Some here have implied that it is the sole responsibility of the white man to make sure the black man doesn't "feel" discriminated against. What does that mean? If you look at someone with no racial intentions, but they interpret it that way, where does the responsibility lie? I suggest it lies with the black person to have some honest discernment in that particular situation.

My husband is Cuban. I asked him this morning if he has ever been discriminated against. He stated "No, because I have never seen myself as a victim.". This confirms my belief that our interpretation of events are not always truth. And how we see ourselves is a big determiner of how we "think" others see us.

These statements no way implies that there is no racism. It reinforces that it goes many different directions and that so many are dishonest about it! It in no way implies that a white person should not be sensitive to the potential racial sensitivity of a person. We should all take care that our actions or words do not injure any other human being.

The responsibility to stop racism in this country starts with EVERY PERSON alive to CHOOSE to stop it!

Hilander Mcleaod

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Hilander Mcleaod replied to Veronica Ussery Perez's comment

Your system is unfair and racist...You denying it to justify your own opinions which are not right and always prove to bring pain to others. Please do me a favor to watch this : http://www.democracynow.org/2002/12/6/we_wanted_our_children_to_be?autos... , in few years, you will all come and look TM parent with hypocrite pity fake christian eyes. While now you coming with your fake theories like evolution theories to explain your make up facts!!! Shame on america, you do not learn!

Veronica Ussery Perez

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Veronica Ussery Perez replied to Hilander Mcleaod's comment

Highlander. The only racist I have seen on here is you. The only person on here that chooses not to open his/her eyes and listen is you. You are very judgmental for a person that does not know me nor live in my country. You have preconceived notions of all Americans and that is wrong. Would you like me to have preconceived notions of all South Africans? Shame on you for your judgement. You have proven that you are not here for an open and honest discussion. You are only here to tell ALL white Americans that they are racist. I will no longer reply to your posts.

Garien L. Hudson

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Garien L. Hudson commented…

I'm not sure that this article is completely off-base with calling us to "wake up" as a nation. Can we take a step back and look at the national reaction to this case and honestly say to ourselves "race does not matter in this country?" We can point out who bares responsibility, who perpetuates what - be it white priviledge or playing up the victim role - but it's all useless. We rarely LISTEN because our glorification of individuality plagues us with this disgusting need to be right...which plays right into the hands of the dark forces in Ephesians 6:12. There are forces beyond our comprehension that seek our demise as believers all day every day - relentlessly desiring death upon us both physical and spiritual. Nothing is off limits, not even things pertaining to our identity - which is even more significant because of the major implications it has if we were to actually indentify ourselves with Christ over all our other "options." Any worldy scheme that seeks to divide (the social construction of race in the US and this world) is not from the Lord. Period. Racism isn't going to end because we really, really want it to end. Racism will end when we authentically confess our inept, self-serving efforts to end it and start seeking guidance from the Holy Spirit. We can't do this alone anymore.

Veronica Ussery Perez

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Veronica Ussery Perez replied to Garien L. Hudson's comment

Yes! Our battle is not against flesh and blood!

Taso Grevenitis

2

Taso Grevenitis commented…

We are all God's creatures; Black, White, Hispanic, Asian. The devil wants us to fight against each other. We must rise above that and stand with each other as one body in Christ.

Romans 15:6 "That together you may with one voice glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ."

I am praying for all of my brothers and sisters in Christ, that we will one day see charachter, not color. This turmoil that the Trayvon Martin trial has caused is what the world wants.

We, as Christians, are in the world, not of the world. We all need to do a better job of welcoming Christians of other races into our Church.

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