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.


Julia said...

love this! Just had a debate that hurt my heart tonight with an old friend about a very similar issue.

Erin said...

Well stated!