March 24, 2012

On Trayvon Martin

I was out of town this past week on a short vacation, and realized on the road that I left the last post on misogyny in disarray.  Blame part of that on my fatigue, and part on the new Blogger interface.  Anyway, I have fixed it.

I come back to the world reminded again that the Republican party seems hell bent on alienating everyone other than white males--which puzzles the hell out of me.  But I also thought of the GOP's "southern strategy" when reading about the tragic killing of Trayvon Martin in Florida.  When Newt and others play that race card in the South, they play to this kind of environment where whites fear blacks in a false way, and don't even recognize the extent at which blacks live with genuine and very real fear that whites will use the power of the state or the gun against them.  That idea of white privilege is something I wish more white Americans would consider.  Yesterday, I watched ESPN's Michael Wilbon discuss the story about Lebron and the Heat donning hoodies to show solidarity with Martin, Wilbon just casually remarked that he had been stopped "driving while black" in his own neighborhood.  Or this from a former reporter for the Chicago Tribune.  Some of these stories are historical, but others are current.  

The furor over Martin is growing, and that is a good thing.  We should have a discussion about armed civilians taking the law into their own hands.  I know the trend (certainly here in OK) is to loosen and loosen gun laws and encourage more open carry, and in Florida, the trend has been to add easy justification for shooting if you are in fear.  Maybe this will change.  But, as Sharifa notes:  
"What nauseates and scares me is the deafening silence from the masses concerning Trayvon Martin, our neighbor. It’s curious to me how easily 100 million people could see the Kony video, buying t-shirts and forwarding videos, and yet remain silent about the neighborhood watchman in their own backyard who shot an unarmed boy for carrying Skittles."
This speaks to the same sentiment where people are deeply concerned with poverty in Africa, see the poor here as unworthy and lazy.  Our racism is deeply encoded and most of us don't even see it.  I see my own, and it bothers me greatly.  Or, let me say, I see some of mine.  I suspect some of mine is out of sight for me too.  But what I see bothers me, and I struggle to fight those voices.

As is very usual, Leighton has some wisdom to add to this conversation.  In comment from last week, he noted this problem of a world-view that doesn't include other people.

There is large subset of the population that has trouble with abstract thought, and tends to view the world in simple, black-and-white terms. It's been my experience that people like this will have moral universes that include only people they personally know, and strangers who are seen as simply good: fellow believers, their countrymen (so long as they aren't liberal), starving children in Africa (usually just the children), etc. Everyone else whose circumstances might require analysis or difficult consideration is rejected out of hand. To my mind, this explains why people who clearly care deeply about the people physically around them can be so vicious toward strangers, because it really isn't about people at all for them.
There is still much to learn about the Martin shooting, but there is some sense that the shooter saw Trayvon as a stranger and sub-human (in some sense, anyway) because he was young, and black in a white neighborhood.  He simply didn't fit.  Perhaps we will learn that the shooter's fears were real and legitimate, I don't know.  But the broader issue remains, and remains for all of us.  What limits do we put on those we care about, or will protect?

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