Sunday, December 16, 2012

Why I'm Still Thinking about Trayvon Martin

"Oh, I know why she gets so upset about that," you might think. "It's because her son died." And you would be partly right. My son died only five weeks before Trayvon died (but at least my son died in his sleep of natural causes). Or you could remember that my boys get around Baltimore on public transportation and on foot; so maybe I could relate with Trayvon's family because he was on foot. And you would be partly right.  A young man walking home from a convenience store with candy and tea, wearing a hoodie, could so easily have been one of my sons!

But those aren't the only reasons it upsets me.  I was a kid during the Civil Rights Movement. Because I lived in Washington State, I was pretty insulated; I knew we were all equal, and somehow I assumed everyone else must think so too. So I totally didn't "get it", at first. I thought if there were still a few people who were a little prejudiced, then we didn't need major changes; we simply needed to change those few people's hearts. But I wanted to understand. So I began to read. One of the books I read was Black Like Me, by John Howard Griffin, the white writer who took pigmentation medicine to make himself look black, so he could find out what life was really like in the Deep South for black people. And what he found wasn't pretty!  I read more and learned more, and the picture didn't get any better.

Thankfully, all that has changed a lot. We have made great strides in being real, in recognizing that we are all just the same. But some moments, in some places, we might wonder. A man in a car, a man with a gun, follows a lone teenager who is on foot, and then gets out and follows him on foot, and then apparently asks him what he is doing there.  Do you know how demeaning that question is?  Do you know how threatening that whole picture is?  Even if we don't know exactly what happened after that...we do know that an unarmed teen was shot. Oh, but you have a right to carry a gun and stand your ground, right?  Only in self-defense. But besides, did anyone think of the unarmed teen's right to stand his ground?  It seems to me, for a moment (or a month or two), when that man was not arrested and tried, we went backwards - at least in that little corner of the world - some 50 years. Thankfully, the man was finally arrested, so this can be handled in a trial. Hopefully, we are back on track.

In the meantime, when you see me in a hoodie, now you know why. Yes, it does fit my relaxed clothing style. But I didn't buy my hoodies just because I like a casual style of clothing. I bought my hoodies after the Trayvon Martin incident, and they remain my continuing statement of solidarity.

Now, I'm not going to ask you to buy a hoodie, but I would like to ask you to join me in two things.

First of all, even if we - you, my readers, and I - are not racially prejudiced, I'm afraid we all sometimes make assumptions about people, perhaps based on the economic "class" we associate them with, or perhaps the clothing they wear, maybe a disability that they have, or maybe the way they talk. Do we ever hear ourselves saying or thinking "those people" it a culture, or an economic class or the way people dress?  If we do, let's stop ourselves and think: We are all the same. We all have hopes and discouragements, joys and sorrows. We all have people we love and people who love us. At the same time, we are each immensely different. Each one of us is a totally unique individual with complex thoughts and precious gifts.

Secondly, for those of us who are praying people, let us pray that our country will be a place where people are held accountable for their actions, regardless of the victim's race, culture, or who they know. We simply cannot permit vigilante law. Let's pray that our law enforcement and our courts act with honor and fairness. Most of all, let's pray that we may all grow in respect for one another.

Thank you.

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