Can Trayvon Martin’s Killing Spark National Reflection on Prejudice?
One of the reasons why Trayvon Martin’s killing has evoked so much outrage is because of the racial profiling.
This element is clearly established from the 911 tapes and Zimmerman’s known history and it has brought to the fore, though not universally, a subject which America — at least some of America — still seems to have a hard time dealing with.
When the news was breaking of the killing, numerous black writers wrote about how it was the profiling that saw them identify with a kid they did not know.
Jonathan Capehart wrote in the Washington Post:
“One of the burdens of being a black male is carrying the heavy weight of other people’s suspicions. One minute you’re going about your life, the next you could be pleading for it, if you’re lucky. And far too many aren’t. That’s why the Feb. 26 killing of Trayvon Martin has black parents around the country clutching their sons a little closer.”
Black parent Cosby Hunt wrote about clothing advice he plans to give his two sons:
“We did not plan to give them advice about hoodies, but now I see we’ll need to have that talk, too. We will have [to] say, ‘You know how you used to wear your hooded Batman sweatshirt when you wanted to fight the bad guys as a kid? Well, now that you’re older, some people will be confused and think that you are the bad guys if they see your hoodie and your skin color. It’s silly and wrong that anyone would think that you are the bad guys, but we don’t want you to be hurt. We don’t want the real bad guys or even some guy playing superhero to hurt you.’”
Those concerns are being fanned by outright racist reactions, denial of what African-Americans are describing about their lives and the reaction of some in attempting to paint Trayvon as somehow deserving of his fate.
MSNBC’s Rock Centre had four African-American journalists explain their own experience of racial profiling.
Glamorous host Tamron Hall said:
“I am followed in department stores. I have walked in dressed professionally or dressed in jeans and I have walked into stores and, instantly, security is on my back.”
Hall recalled her father telling her brother what numerous others have also been recounting — how to handle getting pulled over by traffic police: to keep his hands on the steering wheel, look forward, answer “yes, sir” or “no, sir,” and avoid any sudden movements: “Because we don’t want that officer to believe there’s a black man in that car who’s making a sudden move and we’ve gotta take action.”
“Even if I’m in a suit, this sort of automatic clutch of the purse or what have you. You know, just a little cringe. But we know that just wearing a suit does not change anything. You know, they’re not really looking at the suit. They’re not really looking at the hoodie. They’re looking at the skin.”
Says Ron Allen, “I sometimes wonder what would it be like if i didn’t have to worry about racism and race and you could just live your life as a normal person.”
Anti-racist educator Tim Wise in a powerful essay turns to the science to point out that:
“It should be especially unsurprising that Zimmerman would have internalized racially-biased assumptions about black males, given the society in which he (and we) reside.”
He ticks off how:
· Research has conclusively shown that local newscasts over-represent blacks as criminals, and over-represent whites as victims.
· A substantial percentage of anti-black racial hostility can be directly traced to media imagery, even after all other factors are considered.
· Disproportionate incarceration of black males — especially for non-violent drug offenses, which they are no more likely (and often even less likely) than whites to commit — feeds the perception that they are so treated because they are dangerous and must be kept at bay.
· Criminality is so associated with blackness that whites literally and almost instantly connect the two things — the fear center in the brain is seen to light up — even though they are roughly five times as likely to be criminally victimized by another white person.
· Anti-black racism has been so long ingrained that not only most whites, but also most Latinos and Asian Americans, demonstrate substantial subconscious bias — even about a third of blacks themselves demonstrate anti-black racism.
Some white writers have reflected on what this national moment means for them, as Christy Diane Farr did for Care2, on her “reality check”.
“White privilege?” she writes “Um … yeah. My kid is white and he wears a hoodie, and when he and his friends cross the street between the closest snack vendor and our neighborhood, nobody stops them to ask what they are doing. They are not assumed to be up to no good, nor does anyone think they don’t belong here. They are white kids in rural Tennessee. They belong here – whatever the hell that means – and that turns my stomach inside out.”
“Empathy — real empathy, not the situational and utterly phony kind that most any of us can muster when social convention calls for it — requires that one be able to place oneself in the shoes of another, and to consider the world as they must consider it. It requires that we be able to suspend our own culturally-ingrained disbelief long enough to explore the possibility that perhaps the world doesn’t work as we would have it, but rather as others have long insisted it did.”
“Never has there been an experience like this that went completely unnoticed. But, never has there been one in which everyone allowed themselves to be consumed by the wave of possibility. There’ve been maybe 10,000 people enraged or engaged, or even a million or more, but not everyone.”
“We’re being given that invitation again now. Nothing we can do now will justify the taking of Trayvon Martin’s life. Period. But, please, please, please let this be the last false start of that wave that can take the fearful energy that is consuming our country, and return it to love.”
Picture by World Can't Wait