Posted by: minnow | July 15, 2013

A Seat at the Table

The Zimmerman verdict is in and a young man’s death remains a painful reminder that our country is at war with itself.  I personally have not followed this story closely.  I know a generalized version and understand it was often played out in the media as fraught with racism.  The response here by John O’Keefe echoes what I hope the country can take away from the situation.  Yet even as I say that I know many in the Black community might read John’s words and think, “Really?!  Is that it?  Then explain to me what I should do with all the anger I feel.  How much more blood shed must there be before race discrimination becomes a top priority?”  And I can’t blame them.  Next to that my gripes about equality for women pale.  Even the marriage equality issue seems less urgent.  When it becomes life and death, what should take precedence?

In their July 13, 2013 article summarizing the trial The Huffington Post declared, “And with that acquittal, this chapter of the Trayvon Martin case, one that has captivated and divided a country for almost 17 months, has been brought to a close.”  I can’t do anything to help Trayvon Martin’s family and friends.  I don’t know them and Montana is just about as far away from Florida as you can get and still be in the same country.  But in all likelihood the verdict did not bring them closure.  I hear the pain in the voice of a Black mother afraid to let her baby walk out the door and I have to remind myself I wasn’t on the jury.  I don’t know all the facts in this case.  Maybe the prosecution really did bite off too big a chunk to prove beyond a reasonable doubt.  Was there intent?  Who was the aggressor?  I could go on speculating forever but like Mr. O’Keefe said in his post, “If we focus on one case, we lose site of the wider picture.”

Mr O’Keefe brings up a good point.  None of us can change the verdict of the Zimmerman trial.  We do  however, have options as to how we respond to the verdict.  Most of us will simply move on.  We aren’t directly affected and our own lives will replace today’s headlines no matter how inflammatory they become.  In fact, the media won’t spend too much more time hanging out here either.  For a short time, some may choose to protest and the protest could even turn to riots and group violence.  But, even if additional deaths occur those highly charged reactions will most likely be short lived.  Others will use this verdict to fuel their fears.  This response won’t result in a sudden burst of action–like a protest or riot.  Instead when fear is fed it’s like a slowly simmering pot of potentially dangerous liquid.  Turn up the heat just a little; the pot boils over.  And, someone almost always gets burned.  In fact, a simmering sense of fear is possibly what caused the conflict between George Zimmerman and Travon Martin to spiral out of control in the first place.

I am sad for the Martin family.  As a mother I know I would be enraged if my son was killed in such a senseless manner.  I cannot understand the fear Blacks feel when they must navigate a mostly white environment because I am not black.  (To gain a sliver of understanding I recommend this post).  But, I do understand at least some of the fear Black parents feel as they watch their children venture out in the world because my son also wears a target.  Yet, because I am not directly involved in this case I have the luxury of being able to step back.  I can recognize that Mr. Zimmerman could be struggling with his own set of fears.  They may have been taught by personal experience or they might have been handed down like an inheritance.  But fear is what drove him and in the end that was his defense.

In his post, Mr. O’Keefe states, “But, those of us who are concerned with the way our society is falling apart, we see the need to have multiple conversations at the same time – for us, it is both/and.”  That is the fourth way we can respond.  O’Keefe is talking about the need for conversations about race in America and poverty in America and gender equality and marriage equality.  He’s talking about keeping our eye on what matters and avoiding what merely inflames, crates fear, or gets us off track.  He’s talking about NOT getting into a pissing match as to which issue should take precedence or which group is more marginalized.  Read his post; he makes a good point.

I can only add this to what Mr. O’Keefe is saying.  Instead of “falling apart” I think society is finally crying out from enough places that we can no longer claim ignorance.  It is not enough to simply go about our day.  And anger and fear don’t work because anger makes us irrational and is easily discounted and fear only causes us to accept the status quo.  The status quo–when we weren’t “falling apart”–kept those (we now refer to as marginalized) in their places and silent.  At least now we actually refer to them.  At least now we actually acknowledge the marginalized as more than our lessers, our servants.  Maybe, instead of falling apart we finally have a glimmer of hope that we can all somehow come together, that finally we’ll make room at the table.

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