Friday, July 19, 2013

Thoughts on Trayvon & Zimmerman

Before I get into what I want to say, I want you to look at this picture. Maybe like a whole minute before you read anything else. Really. Don't just glance, look at this picture:

Now, I know it is a terrible angle, and that a cell phone replication isn't the greatest way to recapture an image. I get all of that. But there is something about this picture that for a few months captivates me every time I see it. I sometimes even avoid the hallway it is in, because I know I will stop.

And here is what I feel I am learning from it: this is a prophetic picture of the future of America if we want it. It is a picture of man helping man...period.

I think there is a key phrase in what I just said above that must be examined, and it really is the framework for everything written here - if we want it. And this type of desire is not rainbows, kittens and giggles. It is the type of want that we have to work for, strive for and go through fire to get. It requires payment, some of which has been paid, but we still owe immensely to obtain.

The other day I posted something on Facebook that was quite heartfelt. It was about my feelings of the perpetuation of "the other" in response to the verdict of Trayvon Martin and George Zimmerman. I thought it was really good, and so did quite a few others. It got a lot of likes. But one thing I noticed is that only one of my African American friends "liked" it. This could be a chance, in my own life to join the ranks of the "What's wrong with them club?"

But here's the deal. My friends on Facebook are actual friends. Like, I have lived life in some regard with them. Admittedly most of my African American friends are from my time in Los Angeles. That is the one period of time where I had deep and meaningful relationships with non-white, non-hispanic people. Sure, that could speak poorly of me. But the reality is, crossing those lines in seminary and in church in L.A. is much easier than in Central Texas or Alabama. And I didn't know better in Texas, and I have to fight hard in Alabama to even make progress in cordiality often times.

The African American friends I made in L.A. are just like the rest of you. I worked with them, I worshiped with them, I hung out with them, I went to school with them, I shared meals with them. In other words, and I hate this word, but we all know what it means, these are not token friends. These are not friends I pull out of a back pocket to say, "See, even though I'm a Texan, I'm not so racist."

A couple of these friends, that I am forever thankful for, allowed me the space to say, "Hey, this is where I started, this is where I am, and this is where I want to be. Help me. Help me breakthrough the lies that have surrounded me all of my life." And I think, and only they can say for sure, at first my honesty was an affront. But because it was sincere, they saw that there was no malice intent. I was just a kid who had no ideas what a lot of African Americans, Latinos and Asian Americans went through. Because of their encouragement, and because my church had just folded I sojourned in a Black Church. I wanted to experience life as the minority. And Black Church (or Asian Church, or Native Church, etc.) was as close as I was ever going to get.

Friends from Pasadena Church.
Admittedly, I went to a black church that was striving toward racial diversity so it was easier. The pastor was also quite contemporary and the congregation was behind the vision. Even still there were rough days. There were men and women who remembered this being a good, strong black church. Their hearts had a hard time with change. At the end of the day could I say that I understood what it was like to be the minority? No. But at least it was a small enough taste to know that there was in fact something different going on. And that friends, is the message I can bring in the midst of this.

What I can say is this: there are different America's being experienced today. For the most part if you live in a homogenous neighborhood or city things aren't that bad. As we know however statistically most homogenous neighborhoods are white. There may be a few places that are strictly Latino or Black, or even Korean, Chinese or Native American, but for the most part, even if these places have relative peace, lands like the reservations or border towns are relatively poor and have substandard education, law enforcement and the like.

I also know this: I have friends who get pulled over for the color of their skin. They wouldn't lie to be about this. These are good people that I have entrusted my life to, that fight with every fiber of their being for reconciliation. So, to combat a stereotype we see played out these days, these are not "Angry Black Men and Women." These are men and women that have nothing to gain by telling me a lie. And those friends tell me that they are experiencing a different America.

Another thing I know: a lot of Whites don't understand why this case is Black-White. And as racist as this sounds it's because most people look at this man and do not see a White guy. They see a Hispanic, a Latino, or in the worst cases a "Mexican." (Worst cases meaning people who call all Latinos/Hispanics Mexicans, not that Mexicans are bad people.) What they don't realize is the dude is half-white. His dad is White; his mom Hispanic. But in today's America that one half determines the whole.

So, why be so negative? Why do I help perpetuate the problems of segregated America?

As you could imagine, I just don't see it that way. I don't see that I am saying anything that isn't already true. In this sense I am recording what already exists. The truth is that until we are able to acknowledge that there are co-existing American narratives that are true we will not see true racial harmony or acceptance. In most cases we have what I like to call tolerance. There is almost a pervading idea that "If I have to, I will," across our country. And we take that as enough.

But the problem is it limits what any of us can do. If Whites feel that their programs that reach out to ghettos and minorities are so great they are failing to embrace the humanity of those they serve. Sure, the program is good, but more than likely you are serving a charity not a person. It still leaves you as superior until you decide to actually do some life with others.

On the other side of the coin the limits are obvious. Poor education, sky rocket arrest levels, suspicion just for looking different. These are all limits. But there are other limits too such as behavior modification for the sake of acceptance, limited scope for your future, loss of hope and a continuous performance just to be accepted. Heck, having to get an education just to have your voice heard is a problem. And these things exist.

This post could go on-and-on. This is like an ice cube chipped off an ice berg. It isn't even a one-billionth part of the issue. But, I want to by saying this. I asked a few of the friends I mentioned above to write a response to what I wrote here. Because truth be told, I could still be flying blind here. And I hope that they have the time to respond. It will also just provide some perspective from voices I trust. These won't just be "flaming voices of dissension," they will be well-thought and worded...but most importantly written in love.

Until then, let's have a conversation. Let me know what you are thinking about these ideas.


  1. Here is what I am thinking:

    Race is always more of an issue if people are encouraged to continue dialogue about it (ala the case you mentioned). Mass media has a long standing agenda of bringing forward and/or spinning stories which polarize situations and cause much arguing. If you look at this shameful case you refer to, this much is quite clear.

    Race can ONLY stop being an issue when people stop talking about it and treat each other as human beings. Just like terrorism, racism cannot be "fought", as it is an IDEA, a mental state. The only way for people to stop being racist is for them to stop thinking in terms of race at all! Talking about it just keeps the issue going, and it's a bit disappointing at how many people are fooled by this.

    No amount of talking about it, no amount of education will stop racism. As far as I can tell, the only real cure is self-actualization; realizing we are all one and that we can trust ourselves. This may be through aligning yourself with a higher power or just learning to respect yourself, and thereby, others.

  2. I am reminded of a quote by Carl Jung:
    "What you resist, persists."

  3. First off let me say, I would kill to know what everyone in that picture would think if they knew it was being proliferated on the internet lol. I remember that night, we've all come a long way. Secondly thanks for the honesty, the thought, and the perspective. I think many of my White brothers and sisters straddle the line either between white guilt, and an obliviousness to white privilege altogether. Then there's a third category who don't even know what either of those things are. This is largely because your experience (James) as a white american is rare, sorry to be captain obvious. It's rare however because when it comes to race in America the majority group (white folks), don't necessarily have to engage it unless they WANT to. We as "minorities" navigating a society that largely doesn't look like us, HAVE to become more versed in these types of issues, not that we necessarily always are. So in other words, until America changes demographically, we will most likely continue to see the divides that exist, that being the case let us not stop showing the world what heaven looks like.

    Concerning the Trayvon Martin case, tragically this is the history of America, the taking of black life by Whites, blacks, brown or whoever with relative impunity. This history is despicable, and what's even worse, is that this history is so often denied, and relegated as, simply history. But what people don't realize is this, just because something is history, doesn't mean its in the past, and has no effect on the present. What we see now, is always a reflection of what was THEN. How did Zimmmerman walk away a "free" man, well because for generations America has been socially conditioned to de-value black life. We were once 3/5ths of a person for crying out loud. There is no way, that a "history" that pernicious simply goes away because now we are more decent people who have smart phones and shop on amazon. To put it another way, things don't just change over time, they change because you put in the work OVER time. And quite frankly we as a nation, have not put that work in. Sure one can say the prosecution's case was not very good (from what I'm told it wasn't ), but can you really expect black americans, or any reasonable american of any race or ethnicity, to simply ignore the elephant in the room? If I told you that Person A always stole person B's lunch money before school every day for 10 years, and that everybody including person B knew it, then one day person B's lunch money goes missing, and Person A denies it and just says, forget the fact that I've done this for the last 10 years I didn't do it this time, quit being paranoid, wouldn't you say person A is delusional. Yet that's what happens in America, black folks have had their lunch money stolen by a racist power structure for centuries, so pardon us if this case doesn't look all too familiar. A lack of black representation on the Jury and prosecution, can we trust that justice was served? To quote Lisa Sharon Harper, this case shows that "you can still kill black people in America and get away with it, just as long as you can prove you were afraid of them."

    Thanks for sparking this discussion James, I have further comments for how we can move forward but it's late and I want to hear your response to my response. lol

    Sincerely, Mark Chase (who was no stranger to murder)

    1. First, to anyone reading Chases's excellent post, that last line is both an old personal joke, and a line from Pushing Daisies. He happens to share the name of a character on that show, and at one point the narrator says, "Mark Chase was no stranger to murder."

      Also, below is a selection from my daily reading that I thought pretty great. It really seems to go along with the flow of this conversation.

      But first, a response to Chase. Chase is one of the three I specifically asked to be a part of this conversation. We were in seminary together, and he led the college and youth at the church I went to that is described above. In addition to these things, Chase is a poet and hails from the home of one of the best football teams ever...the New York Giants.

      So, when I read your response Chase, I have two immediate thoughts: 1) Amen; 2) A lot of people will dismiss this because they see it as a continuation of "angry black response." Does that make sense? As, I read your words, I try to think back to what I was like and I can see how fear or anger comes in.

      But facts are facts, and truth is truth. What you are saying is not only validated through daily practice, but has been stated over and over from various, unconnected men and women of many races. I think your image of working over time, and my words on paying the debt fall in the same vein. Most younger people think the debt has been paid. The work has been done.

      I totally get how we could see things that way. I mean, "Look. I had black friends in college. See, equality is here." Does that make sense? We see one external measure and think that progress is somehow taken care of. We fail to see the continuation of poverty, lack of hope, equal access to public schools that are performing well, disparity in wages, etc. We mistake a little progress for equality.

      Also...we frankly haven't done the work ourselves. We are riding the coattails of a lot of men and women from the 1960s-70s. They did the work. We got to live in a world they helped shape. In other words, great job Chase. You yet again challenge me, because I'm not as bold as you and say things that need to be said.

      One point that I found interesting is you stating that as long as demographics persist as they are, we aren't likely to see change. That is quite interesting. I think as far as the African-American population it has been relatively stable for decades now. With the rise of the Latino/Hispanic population and even Asian-American populations, I don't think we have seen significant growth in the African-American populous. Do you think that will continue to impact things? Or do you think, especially as the Latino/Hispanic population comes closer to majority status there will be a shift? turn to cut myself off. And below, are those devotional thoughts. Peace everyone...I'm off to play banjo at church, because you know, I live in Alabama.

      We become neighbours when we are willing to cross the road for one another. There is so much separation and segregation: between black people and white people, between gay people and straight people, between young people and old people, between sick people and healthy people, between prisoners and free people, between Jews and Gentiles, Muslims and Christians, Protestants and Catholics, Greek Catholics and Latin Catholics.

      There is a lot of road crossing to do. We are all very busy in our own circles. We have our own people to go to and our own affairs to take care of. But if we could cross the street once in a while and pay attention to what is happening on the other side, we might become neighbours.