This past week the television and internet have presented imagery of outrage about the murder trial in Florida. Trayvon Martin was shot and killed by George Zimmerman. There is no dispute about that fact. There is dispute about the legal definitions of the act and thus the verdict of ‘not guilty’ presents a picture of at least two different American experiences. President Barack Obama stepped into the White House press room on Friday afternoon to share his personal thoughts. What I heard was a deeply heartfelt sharing of his experience as a black man in America. What I saw and read in news reports and on social media provided a snapshot of the lack of empathy and outright racism that exists in our society.
In my unscientific sampling I saw television commentators and pundits align themselves according to political party and race. White republicans proclaimed the remarks by the president as un-presidential, self indulgent and characterized them as fanning the flames of racial divisiveness. The generally black and brown democrats applauded his remarks as courageous and personally identifying with the issues many see are the root cause of the shooting. The liberal white folks put on hoodies and changed their profile photos on Facebook.
Here’s what I know. I’m a white guy and I don’t get followed going into a store. I can walk into a fancy restaurant and use the restroom and leave without being a customer, I am neither followed or challenged. I know because I’ve done this countless times when walking downtown and need to use the facilities. I know I have clicked shut the locks of my car when driving in the city and while stopped at a light I see a group (2 or more) young black men approaching the intersection. I don’t know why I do this. I really can’t say anything has ever happened or even remotely suggested that I need to do this. The truth is as a white male I don’t have any experiences that come close to being profiled by police or media or society in general as do the majority of black males.
I can’t change Florida law, the outcome of that horrible night and I can’t change your mind if you think the entire thing is blown out of proportion and don’t understand the outrage in the black community. So here’s what I can do. I’m listening to the anguish and anger and frustration. I’m examining my feelings and values and perceptions and I’m opening up to the truth that, even though I’m not wealthy and elite, because I’m a white guy I’ve had it pretty damn easy. And I knew it all along…used it to my advantage and acted like I was unaware of it. I’ve been a duplicitous because I knew I got special treatment and consideration and pretended it didn’t exist because that made me look like I was enlightened. And in America appearances seem to matter more than truth. So I’m trying to figure out how to get to the truth of my experience as well as those whom I encounter. How to raise up everyone to the same level of privilege and consideration.
The tragic loss of a son by any cause is beyond my comprehension but the loss of his life due to violence that is the result of an experience only people of color can truly understand in our society – is beyond painful. I can’t fathom it any more than I can fathom the experience of being suspected of a crime or being a bad guy because of my color. I’m a white guy and I never acknowledged that my privilege was at the expense of other who are not, nor that it was a problem. I’m fixing that. It is my problem. Trayvon was my son, your son, our son, and George is too. We need to raise our sons to be better than us. ~ Art
Here is a video of President Obama speaking about his thoughts on the Trayvon Martin situation.