29 March 2012

The Reason It is Always About Race

Last night, I made the flippant comment, "George Zimmerman was mentally ill, it was the cops who were racist." The Viking called me out on that. He said, "you don't know that. Florida's laws are so f*cked up that people are getting away with that sort of thing all the time." And he's right. I don't know any of those men involved in the Treyvon Martin case. 

What I do know is that George Zimmerman had an unhealthy preoccupation with neighborhood safety. He had made 46 calls - to 911, not the local police - regarding loud kids, suspicious black males, pit bulls, garbage, a neighbor having more electronics in his garage than usual, people not obeying the rules of the road, and all kinds of silly little things that surely weren't appropriate for tying up the emergency line. I know he really wanted to be a police officer, but it didn't pan out. I know he pursued Trayvon with prejudice. I heard it. Clearly, he is mentally imbalanced. What is not completely clear is whether he is racist or paranoid. I mean, this guy called 911 on everything, including children. I cannot say with certainty that if it were a white kid that looked a little shifty to him, he would have given him a pass. It is possible, but I do not know that.

What I do know is that this has exploded into a case of race and racism. Is it a case of race and racism? Yeah, it is. Why? Because racism is so much more insidious than some over-hyped stereotype of a redneck neo-nazi or an old white man sittin' on his big southern porch, sippin' on a mint julep, muttering "f*cking n*ggers..." It's not the white cop asking the black man "Where you goin', boy?" Horrifyingly enough, those people do exist, but they represent a caricature of the real issues of racism in this country: the inequality created by institutionalized racism for many generations. Racism did not end with the Emancipation Proclamation, it only began with the Civil Rights movements in the 50's and 60's. That was one (possibly two) generations ago. 

One of the more disturbing things I have seen come out of this is the venom and furor over making this a race issue in the first place. And the assertion that if "they" weren't thugs, "we" wouldn't treat them like thugs. I've heard people call our president a racist. I've heard that if you look a certain way, you're asking for it (where have I heard that one before?) I've heard "they" always want to make it about race. I have heard all of this without a hint of irony that all those comments are, in fact, racist. 

Well if racism wasn't the elephant in the room, why is everyone foaming at the mouth about it? Seems to be a tender spot to me. I think this speech by Tim Wise is a good eye-opener. It is an hour long, but I think it is absolutely worth it to start this discussion. Because until we truly accept the injustice of our society, we'll never be able to move on or teach our children how these things happen and how they persist in the unconscious minds of everybody. 



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