Monday, July 15, 2013

Nothing has changed?

My previous post sparked a bit of a Facebook conversation with a high school friend.  He had some good things to say.  He is an insightful man.  He said something that I think bears further discussion, but I didn’t want to potshot back and forth via Facebook.  I do better when I collect my thoughts and put them in writing. 

He said, “We want to believe that things are different, and that things are better, but at the end of the day, they aren’t.”  I know that he is far from alone in his opinion.  I will agree with him that things are not as they should be.  There are people of all races who judge others by the color of their skin. 

I’ll ashamedly state that while color is not my trip-hazard, I have tended to judge people of a different economic status differently.  I have done this with people both substantially more wealthy than me as well as people with substantially less than me.  When people have considerably more than I do, I have had thoughts that they are spoiled and haven’t worked for what they’ve been given.  When someone is deep in poverty, I’ve been prone to thinking that they just need to work harder to get out of poverty.  This is a personal shortcoming that I am striving to work through. 

My problem here is with the statement that nothing has changed with regard to race relations.  I’ve read quotes in the news where people state that nothing has changed since the murder of Emmett Till.  If you don’t know, Emmett Till was a young black man who was killed in 1955 for flirting with a white woman in Mississippi.  Emmitt was killed by two white men.  These white men were acquitted.  The righteous outrage over this event helped spark the Civil Rights Movement. 

In the ensuing 58 years, things HAVE changed.  There have been vast improvements.  I honestly can’t tell you how many interracial couples I know.  There is one in my family and several in my church.  Of the couples I know personally, they appear to be very happy.  There are no longer “separate but equal” laws on the books.  When I looked at locations to build a house, I didn’t go around checking to make sure there were only white people living in the neighborhood.  The number of educational and employment opportunities available to people of all non-Caucasian backgrounds has grown tremendously.  Boys and girls, we have a black president.  Politically I am not a fan of the man, but I was still proud that our country has grown up enough that a black man could be elected to the highest office in the land.

I don’t know what it’s like to be a black man in America.  I can’t.  I never will.  But, I do know what it is like to be judged improperly.  I know what it is to have opportunity taken away because of external factors.  As a Christian, I’m constantly judged by the worst examples of those who call themselves by the same name.  I know what it is like to be judged to be less intelligent strictly because of where I grew up and went to college.  Though I managed to keep scholarships all through college, I was floored by how few scholarships were available to white males.  The preponderance of scholarships in the catalog were out of my reach due to race or gender.  I won’t try to make anyone believe that it is the same.  It isn’t, but it’s still wrong.  We collectively need to try to get past all of this.

I don’t know enough about the Trayvon situation (and neither do you) to state that he was either pure as the driven snow or a thug.  Truthfully, most of us (at least the guys) were somewhere in between as teenagers.  We were cocky, even combative.  Young Mr. Martin was likely the same.  Does that mean he deserved to die?  No.  Did Zimmerman make a huge mistake in following the kid on foot, especially when the cops told him to back off?  Yes! I won’t defend Zimmerman’s actions.  It’s entirely possible that he is every bit the racist pig that he’s been portrayed as.  A system of law that works well in most cases was unable to prove that he intentionally went in to kill a young black kid.

In my Facebook discussion, I was told that, “people are asking us not to be so quick to anger because the perpetrator had the right to shoot him.”  There are two parts to this statement that I think need to be dissected.  The first is the portion about being quick to anger.  Anger is natural. My Savior, Jesus, became angry.  Anger in and of itself is not a problem.  The key is what you do with your anger.  Do you go onto a public forum and put racially divisive elements out there?  Do you broadly state that all of Group A thinks poorly of everyone in Group B?  Do you state (and my high school friend did not) that “we need to riot in white neighborhoods?”  My friend has not made that statement, but others have, and rioting has occurred.  If this case were the other way around, and a young white (or Hispanic, or Asian, or whatever) man were killed in questionable circumstances, it would not be considered acceptable for white (or Hispanic, or Asian, or whatever) folks to start making broad public statements about black folks.  It certainly wouldn’t fly for big groups of white folks to walk through the city tearing stuff up.  The explosive anger from that would quickly become the focal point instead of the death itself.  Though I disagree with the situation, I would not have any real problem with a demonstration.  My problem is with the call for violence and destruction.  Again, my friend hasn’t done this.

The second part I want to address about my friend’s statement is about the perpetrator having a right to shoot Trayvon.  Broadly speaking, none of us has a right to shoot one another (or use any other means of deadly force) unless we honestly believe our life is in imminent danger.  If I see someone walking down the street, I don’t have a right to shoot him.  If he punches me in the face, I don’t have a right to shoot him.  I can punch back, but killing him is not legally defensible.  Running away is the best option.  However, if he is slamming my head into the pavement hard enough to crack my skull, it is conceivable that I fear for my life.  At that point, the color of the people involved becomes irrelevant.  If a big red-headed dude is trying to kill me, I’m gonna do my best to stop it.  I have the legal right to use whatever force is necessary.  If Zimmerman had been slamming Trayvon’s head into the ground, Trayvon would have been within his legal rights to take deadly measures.  Had that been the case, this would never have made it beyond the local evening news.

I don’t pretend that everything is absolutely right in this country.  It isn’t and probably never will be.  There will always be people who erroneously judge other people.  The judgment may be due to race, gender, political affiliation, economic status, education, religion, or sexual orientation.  Sadly, we can’t legislate people’s right to be an idiot.  What we must do is not fall into the trap of joining in the judgment.  Our job as neighbors is to remember to “love your neighbor as yourself.”

Sunday, July 14, 2013

Can we talk for a moment about race, love and respect?

If you are reading this, you are a friend of mine.  We either went to school together, worked together, have gone to church together, are family, or have had our lives cross in some other manner.  I have friends who are white, Asian, Hispanic, black, and mixtures of all of the above.  I have family who fall into all of those categories.  I have two beautiful nieces who, had they been male, “would look like Trayvon.”

I spent my formative years in West Texas in the 70’s and 80’s.  My first true exposure to something other than Caucasian and Hispanic culture came in the second grade.  Lubbock was kinda late to the school integration thing.  They began enforcing a policy of cross-town bussing.  The idea was to take kids from different parts of town, put them in school together, and let them grow up not knowing they were different.  This was a laudable goal.  However, cultural bias had set in even by the second grade.  You might be surprised though.  It wasn’t the white kids picking the fights. 

Every morning, I boarded a bus at Haynes Elementary which was three or four blocks from my house.  We then made a very slow 30 minute drive to Wheatley Elementary.  On the first day of school, kids piled off the bus and wandered into class.  On the first day of class, we were told to find a seat and that would be our spot for the rest of the semester.  I plopped down in a seat, only to be told by a young black kid (possibly the first black kid I’d ever met) that I was in his seat.  Being a quiet, non-confrontational kid, I moved.  He then told me that was his seat too.  When I wouldn’t move a second time, he told me he was going to beat me up at recess.  That was the start of a several week series of recess fights.  I never initiated them.  Those of you who know me well know that I don’t start fights.  However, I did stick up for myself.  Was this all race-based?  No, I don’t think so.  Some of it was that this kid was just a mean kid.  However, some of it was because I was a white kid in his territory. 

Towards the middle of that year, my folks moved us to the little town of Wolfforth, Texas: essentially a bedroom community right outside of Lubbock.  Our school district, Frenship ISD, was a bit unusual for that area in that time.  We had fairly well-to-do kids whose parents owned local businesses, farm kids, kids of plain old workaday folks, kids of migrant laborers, and kids whose parents were stationed at Reese Air Force Base.  While leaning heavily to WASP-ish demographics, there were a pretty good mix of races and economic backgrounds.  I never even thought twice about my friends with different skin colors and last names of different backgrounds.  This had to have been a huge leap from the Texas of the pre-1970’s. 

Between then and now, my extended family has grown to include a black brother-in-law, a Hispanic brother-in-law, and a Vietnamese sister-in-law.  I have beautiful nieces and nephews who are mixes from the marriages of those family members and other members of my family.  I love them all.  I also have friends from my church, good friends, from various races and nationalities.  We are there for each other, give each other good natured ribbing and are family to each other because most of our genetic families are far way.

Now, I see people who normally seem to get along quite well just spouting hate because of the stupid act of one young man.  The young man (with Hispanic heritage and a Caucasian surname) followed another young man ( a young black man) and now one of them is dead.  The other’s life is forever altered, arguably ruined.  Did Zimmerman racially profile Trayvon?  Possibly, even probably.  Did he exercise extremely bad judgment in getting out of his car when the cops told him to stay in the car?  Unquestionably.  Did he commit second degree murder or manslaughter?  The honest answer is we don’t know.  We can’t, don’t and will never know.  Therefore, the jury did what the law requires them to do.  It found him not guilty.  This doesn’t mean they like what he did (or might have done).  This doesn’t mean that those six white women on the jury hate young black men.  This means that the State of Florida did not prove beyond a reasonable doubt that Mr. Zimmerman committed the crime for which he was charged.  Reasonable doubt, while not always equitably applied, is the thing that makes our justice system so much better than most.  It keeps the court of public opinion from condemning people who may not have necessarily committed a crime.

My problem is not about what Zimmerman did or didn’t do.  I don’t even want to get into why he went after Trayvon or whether Trayvon was a good kid or not.  My problem is that people are talking about the “United States of AmeriKKKa.”  My problem is that people are quoting Ice Cube in saying that this is what “they” think of you.  That is the basest racism.  Anyone who is behind riots and violence because they dislike the outcome of this trial is fomenting racial hatred.  Letting this drive a wedge between people (not black/white/Asian/Hispanic, but neighbors and friends) is the most ridiculous thing imaginable.  Whether you are right or left, democrat or republican, black or white, letting yourself be played by the media and anyone with an ax to grind is insane.

I further take issue with the fact that huge numbers of young black men have been killed by other young black men and nobody seems to cry much about it.  According to stats from the Philadelphia Police Department, 75% of the 324 murder victims in their city in the year of the study were young black men.  Of that group of murder victims, 80% were killed by other young black men.  That means about 194 young black men were killed by other young black men in one city in one year.  That is appalling.  Why isn’t there more outrage?  Why is there no call for this heinous genocide to stop?  I’m actually asking because I don’t know.  I suspect a large part is because it doesn’t play well in the press.  I also suspect it is because no political hay can be made.  You can’t very well set up an “us” against “them” divide when everyone is “us.”

I want my children, nieces and nephews to grow up in a country where they don’t hear hate-mongers (black, white or otherwise) and racists (black, white or otherwise) saying it’s all some other groups’ fault.  I don’t want my mixed race (black father and white mother) niece to look at my white niece and think “that’s the enemy.”   As of right now, when family gets together, those precious little ones love on us and each other and have a ball like the family they are.  My fear is that they will grow up seeing the hate-mongering on the news and begin to see one another as the enemy.

Friends and family, it all starts with each of us.  Your neighbor (black, white, or otherwise) is a person in their own right.  They are God’s child.  If you don’t believe in God, you’ll at least agree that they are a homo sapiens before they are anything else.  They all are worthy and worthwhile.  So why, please, why do folks immediately start seeing “other” when something like this comes up in the news.  Good grief, “we” are letting “them” play us like fiddles.  OJ, Rodney King, and now Trayvon and Zimmerman.  Every time something like this happens, people shut down.  They, or we, quit seeing each other as worthy people and go straight to exterior appearances.  They, or we, turn off our brains and start feeding from the intellectual trough of CNN, MSNBC, Fox News, or whatever our favorite news outlet is.  We let professional rabble rousers, entertainers and politicians lead us like sheep and tell us who we should love or hate.

Since you’ve read this far, I’ll bore you a bit further.  Yesterday, I saw at least a small hint of what I hope to see for our country in the future.  Our church offers a program to help the community in which it resides.  This program, Neighborhood Needs, offers food, clothing and other items to underprivileged and down on their luck folks in Southwest Fort Worth.  I have seen the program serve white, black, Asian, Hispanic, Bhutanese, Middle Eastern and other folks for years.  Recently, we have teamed up with the Tarrant County Food Bank to offer a once-a-month program called Mobile Pantry.  The food bank brings one or two trucks of food to our parking lot.  We help unload, set up tables, arrange a sign-in station, give out food and help folks get the food to their cars or to the bus.  People of multiple races from several denominations of Christianity and other religions show up to volunteer.  Yesterday, I had the privilege to serve with black, white, Asian, Hispanic, Indian and other folks.  We had volunteers ranging in age from my 11-year old son up to some ladies whose age I won’t guess because I don’t want to take a beating.  We served several hundred folks of at least as varied a background as those serving.  In that group, I can tell you that we had conservatives and liberals.  We had people who are for and people who are against gun ownership.  We had people who are for a greater government influence in our lives and people who want as little government as humanly possible.  We had some rather rich individuals and some startlingly poor individuals.  All that, and we were able to look right past our differences and see each other as neighbors.  I didn’t see any major arguments.  I saw humor, and love and honor.  I saw Christians helping Muslims and Muslims being gracious in accepting the help.  I saw a young Hispanic male helping an older black lady carry her food.

Please take a moment to reflect.  Please let God lead your heart and ask Him to slow your rush to judgment of anyone.  Please look to build bonds with your neighbors.  Please look to make this nation what our Founding Fathers wished for it to be while being able to have an even greater understanding of what a neighbor is than they did.