Tough Truths Are Tough
Trayvon Martin, George Zimmerman, and President Barack Obama all owe us better
I recall the first time I was called a “nigger.”
It’s a word I do not use verbally, do not allow to be used in my presence, and it repulses me the times I feel led to write it. This is such a time because I want to share with you what it is like being black, enlightened, and understanding both George Zimmerman’s actions and Trayvon Martin’s cultural attitude. More, I want you and me to grow past this, together.
One catch: you have to stop. Whatever side you are on, stop. Right now.
I remember when we were kids my younger brother was harassed because he was black. My mom got made sure that man regretted his actions and I learned the meaning of dignity of being black. I remember being pulled over driving through Mississippi for being black. I learned to forgive, allowing my the tweet I sent out to carry away my frustrations (and the hurt). In the field I work in, politics, I know when I am dismissed or given extra attention for being the black guy in the room. I adjust accordingly because I learned to work hard.
Racism exists. It is however, not controlling our society. But because of our past, because it was institutionalized and law, it still today affects African-Americans disportionately.
President Barack Obama was correct in saying that a feeling of frustration is exacerbated when this truth is ignored by some. That’s about it though. The President, like supporters of both Trayvon Martin and George Zimmerman in this tragic altercation, have ballooned a unique circumstance to something it is not. The pressure is causing otherwise ordinary people to stake out positions based on inaccurate information or based on the people they share a cultural worldview with.
See, we all must refuse to be boxed in — be it by our natural allies or by our typical opponents.
Why should there be “supporters” of either individual when both acted cowardly and without regard for consequence?
The “You’re Black” Talk
There are some experiences shared by a particular community. Some of these experiences are so counter to our default natural understanding so those outside of the community cannot possibly take for its full worth at first learning. See, experience is the layer that rests on top of nature.
Ever watch a comedian say something and the whole room explodes? You think to yourself, “wow, that’s totally true.” You’re usually laughing for at least two reasons. First, the presentation joke itself, secondly, the hushed nature of the truth the comedian just put forth. There are common experiences — almost universal — that seldom get talked about.
One of these experiences is “the talk” black mothers are having with their black sons. I know this because my mom had it with me.
The bullet points go something like this: 1) present yourself well always, adapt, assimilate, 2) do not give anyone an excuse to justify actions against you, 3) be extra careful, extra observant, steer away from trouble, and 4) the statistics are against you — prove them wrong.
And each of those conversations ends with, “I love you.”
We may not like it, but this conversation is still necessary. Each passing decade, it gets better. When I think of this, I do not consider blame. It’s not the fault of the white person, nor the black, or anyone. It’s just a fact of life: a cultural minority’s particular habit is likely to be misunderstood by the majority because… it’s the minority!
I’m proud to be a member of what appears to be the last generation that dealt with systematic racism from peers at school. My youngest brother, seven years my junior, hasn't had to deal with nigger being tossed at him or think it normal to not be considered for an opportunity because he is black.
Healing is best done with time. I assure you, Al Sharpton and Jesse Jackson have had nothing to do with it.
I get it — I did not pick cotton and you did not own slaves. We all have some healing still left to do. In the end, I suspect it’s our cultural differences that will be treasured not assimilated away.
My other brother, a year and half my junior, is entirely culturally opposite of me. I wear suits and fitted clothes, he sags oversized jeans. I buy expensive watches, he purchases these silly backpacks that match his equally ridiculous shoes. I smoke the occasional cigar, he smokes, well, recreationally. I drive with my seat at a near 90 degree angle, while he slouches all the way back. There’s not a day that goes by that I’m not worried about how his sometimes careless behavior and sagging jeans will cause an officer or someone else to be distracted from his good heart, his joyous laugh, or his ability to friend anyone from every walk of life and mistake his intentions for ill.
One of the tough truths is that Martin would’ve done well to honor his mother. He was black and he knew that, Zimmerman knew that.
Another tough truth is that Zimmerman is no saint. He may even be a weak, cowardly man. Not only as the adult in the situation, but also as the initiator of interaction, he had the opportunity to walk away from the situation more times than Martin. Shockingly, the two both had more times than most to diffuse the situation. There’s a great deal we do not know.
Alas, it was fate that met these two. Martin was ripped from this world by a startling series of unlikely events. These same events have scarred Zimmerman for life.
There is no joy in this. There is no evil and no good. We should chastise those who become cheerleaders for either side as if this were gladiators sparring off.
A fool would look to mimic either of the men in the minutes that preceded the altercation.
I am deeply hurt and concerned by some of my friends who have glorified Zimmerman’s actions. While the media was looking to lynch Zimmerman, my friends were rushing to protect gun rights sensitive to very real threats on the right to self defense. Sure, Zimmerman acted within the law. I believe that wholeheartedly. However, while Zimmerman is a victim of media slander, dismissing his error in discernment, his inability to overcome and put distance between him and his physical aggressor, and his original misnomer — getting out of his vehicle as citizen watchdogs are taught all across this country — he is not our burden to carry.
For some, the final tough truth is that jury made the correct decision. A nation of laws can govern a nation of many colors, nothing else can. Zimmerman acted with allowable reaction to a series of unlikely events put in motion by both Zimmerman and Martin.
Now consider these truths. These truths mean little to race relations. It’s a truth that does not benefit newspaper sales, blog pageviews, or the cable news cycle.
It is the truth though.
The tougher truths have been laid out in the realities that black, white, yellow, and brown people face everyday, not the series of unlikely events that are the debate of today’s newscasts. It’s hard growing up, and a layer of that is the experience of being African-American in a predominantly white society for some. For others though, it’s being the white kid in an inner-city predominantly African-American school.
Nothing Zimmerman or Martin did or did not do will stop black mothers from having the talk with their black sons. Fatherless homes and resorting to lowly ludicrous behavior contributes to the slow maturing of the black community. Tough truths.
Whites have a role in not only achieving Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s dream to have a nation that judges boys and girls by their character, but also in assisting the black community actualize it’s full potential. See, we not only have a duty to walk upright and forward, but to take into account the actions of our fellow man and adjust.
There is no liberty where there is no common values, a community.
Nothing. Not a damn thing people I disagree or agree with say will force me to praise George Zimmerman, demonize Trayvon Martin, vilify the jury, the judicial system, debate long standing self-defense laws, or take seriously this conversation being had about race by the cable talk community.
It’s time to stop countering facts about the case with people on Facebook, Twitter, or your morning run. It’s time to find a new brother or sister of a different set of experiences to learn from.
Aside from “having a conversation” what do these talking heads propose to make America better? Nothing. Protesting or clinging to talking points, picking a side is easy. The truths we all have to face, without Trayvon, without George… those are tough.
If we are serious and want to get tough with truth, we will drop the protest signs, dismiss politicians who feel the need to tell us their thoughts, chastise those who throw around the racist label, shame but forgive Zimmerman, mourn Martin, and teach our children not to make either’s mistakes.
This pain, on both sides, isn’t about a hoodie.