I have seen multiple people make statements or posts on my FB page questioning why the Martin/Zimmerman case has had such high level of focus in the media and other criminal cases involving a white victim and black perpetrator have not garnered the same attention. And most of the “reverse examples” used have been in crimes where there was breaking and entering involved so not really an apt comparison, I don’t think.
It seems to me that the only people really questioning this are white. And already shows a lack of understanding and/or awareness of a common African American experience. And I am not saying I fully understand or am aware of it because I know I do not or am not. Still it seems we as white people should do our best to understand what we can.
Even if my analogy is not an adequate comparison, it seems an analogy might help seeing a viewpoint we might not normally see.
If you are willing, think of someone you have felt abused, betrayed, or otherwise hurt by once or (more aptly) repeatedly in your life. How long did it take for you to not feel angry anymore? Were you able to forgive? Were you able to forgive even without a formal apology from the person who made the transgressions? Could you forgive even if he/she didn’t apologize? And if the person couldn’t see how they hurt you or refused to own up to it, would you ever trust him/her again? Even if the person did make a heart felt apology how easy would it be to trust him/her again?
How difficult would it be for you to forgive and not be somehow defined by someone beating you, saying degrading things to you on a daily basis or worse- killing or abusing your children or other family members. If you felt worn down, full of grief, hopeless how long would it take for you to heal and be able to bring full positive energy back to your life again? How long would it take you to heal if the wound was never allowed to close but instead the scab was irritated, continuously infected and/or rubbed off before it could ever completely close?
I can tell you that as a Jewish woman (even though I am non practicing now) that Jews will never “forget” being enslaved in Egypt and never “forget” more than 6 million exterminated in WWII, and that we hear derogatory disparaging comments regularly about Jews. I have certainly heard my share not to my face but maybe because I don’t “look” Jewish people might think it’s ok to say certain things around me without fear of being offensive.
When I was 25 years old I sat next to a young black man who was about my age. We chatted for a couple of minutes about the usual stuff passengers sitting next to each other on a plane might; “Where are you headed? Do you live there or are you just visiting,” and so on. After only about 2 minutes of this, he said,” I can tell you have friends who are black?” “How?” I asked.
“Because you look at me with an open expression on your face.”
His comment instantly stunned and saddened me. To think that 70 percent of the population that surrounded him looked at him with something of resistance, negativity or worse -fear, disgust or hatred.
In my early years in High School I thought racism was already in the past and no longer active in this country. How naïve I was. It was very important to my parents to teach my brother and I that everyone is equal (not the same) but equal and deserved to be treated fairly, ethically and respectfully regardless of gender, skin color, sexual orientation, religious beliefs, financial status and so on. Aren’t those some of the qualities that people uphold about what’s great about this country? If it is not the truth, not the reality of how all of the inhabitants of this country are treated but those characteristics are still upheld as vitally important wouldn’t you want to make it true?
How can we heal this deep wound if we don’t collectively recognize that the prosperity of this country was birthed out of the genocide of sovereign nations that were here first and through slave labor from the African slave trade?
And some might respond that that was so long ago and we have come a long way from then and we have a black president now (or more accurately biracial). Why are we still talking about this?
We are still talking about this because the original wounds have continued to be aggravated. Certainly a victim should not rely on the perpetrator to complete a healing process. However, it seems to me healing can occur much faster when and if a victim can confront a perpetrator and the perpetrator is able to do some soul searching and at least admit to the act, transgression or crime. If the pus of a deep infection is not allowed to drain, to be cleaned out daily, it can easily fester. If a family member had an infection wouldn’t you want to tend to it regularly and gently? I have heard some people say that some kinds of amends have been made: the right to vote, affirmative action and social welfare programs. To me these are not the same thing as an open apology and they certainly are not equivalent to making amends. Amends go beyond trying to make the playing field even, they return what was taken if possible and if not possible they give something back that could be considered equivalent. The US government will never give the land of this country back to the remaining Tribal Nations, it can never return the torn apart and dead family members back to African families. I have no idea what could be considered equivalent, but I do know that continued fearful attitudes that promote paranoia and contribute to violent actions just seem to perpetuate the lack of trust and a holding pattern of unnecessary violence.
I read an essay on a different blog that also had what I thought was a great analogy. It used a baseball game as an analogy. That if at the beginning of the game the rules were different for each side such that the rules always benefited the yellow side and constantly put the green side at a disadvantage. Then in the middle of the game the yellow side realized how unfair the rules were and made the rules the same for both sides but the score was still in favor of yellows how likely would it be for the greens to catch up or even win if they had been so weakened and put at a disadvantage for so long? It has only been 50 years since the civil rights movement in this country and that is juxtaposed to the Atlantic slave trade that went on for nearly 500 years.
And I am not suggesting that crimes committed by black people are somehow excusable because of the painful history but that certain things should be looked at more deeply. If you’ve ever had a bad habit that you’ve wanted to change, it usually requires some deeper awareness of the psychology involved and a willingness to do something different in order to become successful in changing the habit.
I have even heard a few of my friends who are involved with a spiritual community (mostly new age kind of spirituality) focused on the truth of our oneness as human beings and with all life make derogatory and/or prejudicial comments about African Americans or Latinos. In most instances I have called them out on it and asked questions so they might look more deeply into their negative stereotyping.
I believe the discussion of racism and how we are all impacted by it should and will continue until true healing occurs. And those of us who see people as equal and are passionate about the importance of people being treated with basic equality and respect will continue to do our best to understand and bring understanding in the ways we are able. If you say you care about humanity and care about making a better place for your children- for everyone’s children wouldn’t you want to do your best to understand. And that often requires a discussion.
If you have a fight with your spouse or partner and don’t discuss it, the feelings from the fight would have a hard time being cleared. If you care about your country wouldn’t you want to be a part of the conversation to do what you can to help clear the pain?
Again, I am not saying that black people have no part in this healing process and that it’s all on white people to mend, but white people were certainly the initial instigators of a certain way of thinking toward people with darker skin as “less than”, as “savages” and/or in some ways as not even human. And you might say, “Well African culture utilized slavery for much longer but from what I understand most of it was closer to an indentured servitude situation that ended after certain debts were paid than how slaves were largely treated in this country.
I do think we need to look much deeper and come to terms with the now often subtle unconscious ways these perceptions are perpetuated.