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.”

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