I am watching this conversation that everyone is having all over the media about this trial that we have all been immersed in for the last several weeks. I am watching almost everyone who is white deny that there is any racial aspect to this case whatsoever, and also every African American express their belief that this case absolutely delineates the racial divide in America. I’m watching this young blonde reporter, Emily, from the New York Timesof all things, insist that there is no such thing as “apartheid” in America and demand to know why the panel she is on is talking about South Africa and Trayvon Martin in one breath. She is so angry that the newscaster has to grasp control of the situation to defuse it. Even the other blonde reporter, a contributor to the Daily Beast (I hope I don’t have them mixed up) seemed stunned with what Emily was saying. First I’m thinking that Emily is about to lose her job. Second I am thinking about how denial and unreasonable anger often go hand in hand. Third I am thinking about the many people I know and love who feel exactly the same as Emily. They do not believe that race is a problem for white people in America. They believe that it is African Americans who are keeping the hate alive and we have to admit, if we are brutally honest that there is also some of this “reverse discrimination” going on.
The people I know and love blame African Americans in 2013 for their own failure to thrive in America. They see many “black” Americans as takers. They believe that opportunities have been skewed to the advantage of African Americans through programs like affirmative action, welfare, food stamps Head Start, etc., and they feel that it is clear that these programs have not made a difference for many African Americans. They believe that instead of doubling down on these programs we should employ that “sink or swim” strategy that Republicans are touting. This is why these folks count themselves as Republicans even though they are not rich enough to be real Republicans. These folks believe that there is an almost impenetrable divide of hate between black and white America and that it operates in both directions. Will this divide ever go away? If you listen to the two sides reacting to the George Zimmerman/Trayvon Martin trial you will have to accept that this divide is real and that is certainly not going away right now, although there are cross-over people.
This court decision did follow the laws of Florida, but those laws are not being applied equally to light-skinned people and dark-skinned people. Stand your ground, if it is the law, should apply to both white Americans and non-white Americans, but, given the case of the African American woman who fired a gun into the air to chase away her scary ex-husband and got a sentence of 20 years in prison, the law does not apply equally. The laws about self-defense should not just protect George Zimmerman, they should also apply to Trayvon, but they apparently don’t. The only thing that mattered in that trial was who threw the first punch. The jury was instructed to ignore everything else and pay attention to only the moment of contact. I am sorry; I just don’t get it. Why does all that stalking not matter? If we examine our hearts and set skin color aside and attempt to be really fair, we would have to admit that at the very least we can see both sides of this case. But I find people dividing into opposite camps and those camps represent where we are on race in America in 2013. And people who can see this divisiveness and still argue that there is no racism in this case are lying to themselves and to the rest of us.
How will we ever step across the racial divide to truly equal opportunity, equal treatment under the law, equal success, equal representation in the various socio-economic brackets, and how can we ever be completely color-blind, both groups, white Americans and African Americans? Maybe we will never get there. But it is patently obvious that we are not there yet and that it is everyone’s fault. Although I think asking less prejudiced minds to take another look at this case is totally the correct thing to do, a fairer decision in this case will not change the racial divide. But if in the long run, on a case by case basis, the white community was able to mourn with the black community over this hunted teen and the next person who is killed for no reason (except our sometimes irrational fear of black men) and if we mourn the next one and the next; that empathy, and repeated acts of compassion and understanding, might begin to bridge that awful divide and turn these two Americas into one.
I just finished thinking some more about this while I was washing my dishes and I have to say that I don’t think compassion will be enough. I think it will take a concerted effort by black parents, and white parents, and Hispanic/Latino parents also to come up with new and better programs that will move African Americans, who might be stuck in a low socio-economic rut, into the middle class where they can join so many other African Americans, etc., who are already making solid contributions to America as professionals and business people and skilled tradesmen. Our inner cities should not be economic quagmires that minority (soon to be majority) Americans find it difficult to climb out of. It is not time to get rid of assistance programs, but it might be time to design some better programs that function as ladders up, or up and out. I confess that I have not achieved color blindness, but I do believe in fairness, and I believe that America is supposed to represent fairness for all. And I believe that we all have some hard work to do in this area.
Take time if you get a chance to read the article about the racial divide in America from Newsweek that you will find at this link: