Wednesday, March 28, 2012

When Being Black is All it Is

I don't think there is anyone who hasn't been affected in some way by Florida teenager Trayvon Martin's death in February at the hands of a neighborhood watchman who thought he saw a threat in the tall black teenager wearing a dark hooded jacket.  The story is almost too terrible for words. 

I am white and my children are white.  At the same time that I'm grieving with Trayvon's family, trying yet again to come to terms with the needless death of an innocent child, I recognize that I can't possibly grasp what it must feel like to know their precious son would likely still be alive if only he hadn't been black.

It wasn't the hoodie he was wearing that made him a target.  Kids all across the country wear hoodies every day.  It was the darkness of the skin underneath that hood that provided the catalyst for the kind of tragedy that is becoming as commonplace as it is unbearable.

We're in a place where the issue of racism opens up old wounds, forcing us to once again pull it out and examine it.  I would say racism is back, but we all know it never really went away.  We see it in the open hatred toward our first black president; in the collateral hatred toward his wife and daughters; in a generalized hatred toward people whose only difference is in the color of their skin.

I was a young mother during the last civil rights movement.  It was impossible to explain the inexplicable to my children--that in our own country, this country that boasts about fairness and equality in story and song--there are white people who hate black people so much they want to do them harm.

But the conversations I had with my kids couldn't even come close to the painful necessity every black parent had--and still has--in explaining the same thing to their black children.  How can it be explained?  It made no sense then and it makes no sense now.

I look at Sybrina Fulton's face as she weeps over this latest insult to her dead son--the gleeful egging on of a story about his suspension from high school over an empty marijuana bag in his backpack; I hear the anguished rage in Tracy Martin's voice as he defends the reputation of his murdered son, and I am back to a time more than a half-century ago, when defenseless black citizens were humiliated and hurt and killed for no other reason than the color of their skin.

September, 1955.  Murdered teenager Emmet Till's mother weeps at his open casket.  Emmet Till was 14 years old when he was kidnapped, tortured and murdered by white men for the crime of whistling at a white woman. His face was battered beyond recognition, but Mamie Till-Mobley wanted the world to see what pure hatred could do to another human being--and to society as a whole.  "Civil rights activists used the murder of Emmett Till as a rallying cry for civil rights protest, transforming a heinous crime into a springboard for justice. The Montgomery Bus Boycott followed closely on the heels of the case. Indeed, Rosa Parks is quoted as saying, 'I thought about Emmett Till, and I could not go back. My legs and feet were not hurting, that is a stereotype. I paid the same fare as others, and I felt violated.'"
 We are heading toward a new era of ignorance and poverty and those two ingredients become, historically, irrationally, the fuel for a dangerous firestorm.  It's not a leap to suggest that the vital issue of civil rights needs to be addressed and overhauled before violence becomes the norm again.

The stink of prejudice is everywhere. Hispanics feel it, Muslims feel it, LGBTs feel it, anyone who is "different" feels it.  We can't let hatred win.  We owe some measure of attention to the memories of Trayvon and all other human beings who are punished, often to the point of losing their lives, for no other crime than being who they are.

10 comments:

  1. What some don't seem to realize is that the operative word in "Neighborhood Watch" is WATCH.

    When he got out of his vehicle with a gun, he became responsible for the outcome. To me that says premeditation, but then again I'm not a lawyer.

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    1. Yes, he was told to stop following Trayvon and he didn't do it. It looks now like Zimmerman lied about his injuries, too. This gets worse and worse. I'm not a lawyer, either, but I smell a cover-up. We'll see.

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    2. I've a lawyer friend who said as soon as he got out of he car Stand Your Ground went out the window. Which may be why they are now claiming that Martin came to the vehicle and tried to take the weapon. That Zimmerman never left it until Martin hit him.

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    3. Uh huh, and since there were no eyewitnesses they may just get away with it. But now the funeral director says Trayvon's body had no scratches or bruises at all. I can't imagine Zimmerman not getting a few licks in if someone was beating him up.

      He's a liar who may just get away with it, thanks to some piss-poor police work.

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  2. I find the hatred unconscionable...always have. I think it is every bit as insidious as it was in the 50's....maybe worse.

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    1. I agree, Anon. After all we went through in order to ensure civil rights for everyone, we really shouldn't have to be doing it again. But how do you change people's minds and hearts? I wish I knew.

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  3. We have so much in common, Ramona. I, too, was a young mother during the Civil Rights movement. I'm from Georgia and I saw what was happening first-hand, on the buses, in the neighborhoods, the riots at the military base where I worked. Even before this, I knew that the way they were treated was wrong. They were not treated as human beings. Going to Atlanta on a Greyhound bus and getting out on the streets now seemed dangerous. I was never hurt and never accosted and life calmed down some. I saw the "Colored" signs removed from the department store water fountains and restrooms, shared a lunch counter at Woolworth's with the "coloreds", watched as they were so proud to have a seat on that bus to town to go to work. The signs are still gone but I see more racism now and much of it from people claiming to be religious than I ever saw back then. We are all still classified by our race. Why can't we all just be Americans? A woman? A man? A boy? A girl? I am angry about the killing of Trayvon Martin. In my opinion, all the 911 recordings point to Zimmerman's guilt. I hope he will be arrested and put on trial so the truth will come out. I've read about the Till murder before and have seen pictures of this 14-yr-old child after they beat him to death. All of the blows were to his head, none to his torso. He "whistled" at a white woman on a dare. He was unrecognizable as a person but his mother thought he was beautiful. It was her baby boy. I don't see how anyone can doubt that a mother knows her son and hurts to the depths of her being when one is harmed, much less killed. She doesn't feel less because she is not white! Ramona, too.

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    1. Ramona, I can't even imagine what it must have been like to live in the south during that time. I remember seeing those pictures of Emmet Till and other pictures of lynchings and thinking I never wanted to go to that place called "the south". Then when the Freedom Riders were going down to help MLK and the others, I was terrified for them--with good reason. Many of them were injured, and some, like Viola Liuzzo, and Chaney, Goodman and Schwermer, lost their lives trying to help the cause.

      I'm frankly heartbroken that all that effort wasn't enough to make progress permanent. You can't stop or even slow down hate. It'll always be there, along with ignorance. The best we can do is to make it impotent in the face of righteousness.

      Thanks for writing, Ramona. We do have a lot in common!

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  4. You mention "Hispanics" experiencing hate. Baloney !! it is the illegal Hispanics taking blue color American jobs who are subject to hatred; but even then not ANYWHERE near the level of hatred blacks experience from white people and from every non "white" ethnic group; especially the Hispanics. Mr. Zimmerman is Hispanic did you know that?...only God knows how he got that last name; probably an attempt to run from his Hispanic roots.

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  5. I disagree with you Anon hispanics work for a low wage unlike americans they would never work for less than minimum wage especially on farms and such but anyway i think being racist is over rated i think everyone should treat each other with the kind of respect you wish to receive

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