Fear and Race

This post is prompted by the current incendiary story of the killing of a seventeen year old black male, Trayvon Martin, by George Zimmerman, a neighborhood watch captain in Sanford, Florida. This weekend, the New Black Panthers have offered a $10,000 reward for the capture of Mr. Zimmerman dead or alive. I guess vigilantism is OK if a minority group wants the head of someone that is not a member of their minority.

I do not want to write about the specifics of this tragedy, since the facts, such as they are, are either unknown or are being kept from the public by the authorities. Everything that we 'know' so far is hearsay, conjecture, veiled facts released by the local government or truth as stated by those who want to stir things up in America. In other words, no one truly knows what happened, except Mr. Zimmerman.

What I would like to write about is how I think we, as a nation, got to this point.

Sunday morning I watched a segment of Meet The Press on NBC. On the panel was Ben Jealous of the NAACP (The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People), Michele Norris of NPR, New York Times columnist David Brooks, former Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour and noted presidential historian Doris Kearns Goodwin. All in all I thought the discussion was civil, but it made me really consider how a situation like this could get this tense in 2012.



The point was made that with our president being African-American and the fact that most young kids don't even recognize a difference between black, white, Asian or mixed, the attitude (from everyone but the residents of the 'hood itself) that views black men as a threat must reveal a deep-seated bigotry and racism.

As you may guess, I see things a bit differently. Let me first state for the record that I was born in the south in the pre-civil rights days. I wasn't raised to hate black people, but there was an 'understanding' amongst the races in my single digit years of who belonged where and what was acceptable behavior. Poor whites knew their places as well. That is just the way it was. As I grew up and integrated schools were forced upon all of us, the blacks and the whites tended to hang around with their own type. Keep this fact in mind: whites with money and stature tended to hang with other whites of the same social strata. Jocks hung with jocks and the beautiful people steered clear of the geeks. If a group of blacks were gathered together, it was a lot more obvious based on skin color than if a group of debate-team-geeks sat together at the lunch table. Birds of a feather...

During that time, I distinctly remember my Social Studies teacher in ninth grade, Mr. U. This was in the very late 1960's and Mr. U was a little less conservative than most of the other teachers. With hair a bit longer than most, he was probably my first encounter with a liberal teacher. One day in class we must have been talking about race and equal rights. He made the statement that his girlfriend was Filipino. He talked about how he was looked down upon because he was dating a non-white and what a problem it had been for the two of them. Imagine!

Here we are forty years later and the thought of someone being ostracized because they were dating a woman from the Philippines seems patently absurd.

In the early 1900's a similar attitude was taken toward Italians and the Polish. After a generation or two, the biases worked their way out of society and no one cared if someone was Irish, Polish or Italian. You readers may find this hard to believe but during my high school days there was no notice made of whether someone was Jewish, Catholic, Hispanic or Muslim. My school was mainly 'white' and I don't once remember anyone acting nasty toward anyone based on those criteria. Sure, there was some friction between blacks and whites, but we were also working our way through forced busing, "Freedom of Choice" of which school to attend, while videos of race riots were often on the evening news.

Fast forward 43 years to 2012. What has changed? A lot! There are no ethnic restrictions and virtually no taboos remain as to which races, creeds or colors can intermingle or marry. Take a look around and you will see large numbers of black/white marriages along with untold numbers of Asian and other cultures mixing with blacks, whites and Hispanics. There truly is no color divide anymore.

So, with all of this blending of races, how can something like this happen where a young black Trayvon Martin gets shot by a 'white' man with a Jewish last name whose mother is from Peru and who has black relatives and it is immediately called a hate crime? Isn't this man, George Zimmerman, the prototypical American 'mutt'. Isn't that what we are all becoming? Wasn't that the goal? Does any of it really matter? There is no purity of 'breed' even among white people. Every European country that was conquered during the previous millennium was subsequently inbred by the conquerors. Despite Hitler's opinion to the contrary, there is no pure race in Europe.

Why, in our post-racial society do we still worry about who is black or who is Hispanic and why do we even care about things such as this? I firmly believe it is because the black 'leadership'will not let us forget. In their zeal to remain relevant, the Rev. Al Sharptons and the Rev. Jesse Jacksons and the Honorable Minister Farrakhans and the New Black Panthers all see a racist behind every tree. Every one of society's ills is laid at the feet of racism by these holy men and women (see Rep. Maxine Waters, D-CA, and Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee, D-TX, et al.) Without racism as a bogeyman, most of these people would be required to stand on their own merits and not base their entire public existence and power base on the fight against racism and bigotry. Without a common enemy, would they even have a job?

The irony in all of this is that when you apply one of the definitions of racism (the one most often hurled at anyone that offends these 'leaders') which is the grouping of people together for special treatment based merely on their race or ethnic background, you will also recognize the inherent racism in their own attitudes toward their own kind.

I believe that this pervasive attitude from the leaders of the black community is the number one reason that black men are looked at differently than other men of color in our nation. That term, community, alone assumes that ALL blacks are just alike and can be led and ordered about by a small group of people. Any black person that expresses a personally formed opinion that contradicts their leader's opinions are automatically called an Uncle Tom and are ostracized from the 'community'.

A second, and a bit more subtle reason is the genre of hip hop. I use the term hip hop a bit loosely but it means the whole gangsta, street smart, foul mouthed, degrade women, hate the Po-lice, hate the Man attitude that is so totally cool right now among blacks as well as a huge number of white and non-black wanna-bees. In order to exude a counterculture street cred, these young men dress up to look like punks, with baggy pants hanging down to their knees, ball caps on sideways, hoodies up, dark glasses on and walking with a swagger that says "Stay the f**k away from me, yo!"

People are all human and all humans are animals. All animals have an instinct about how to stay out of harm and how to avoid trouble. It is hard to breed instinct out of any animal and trying to train it out is also probematic (ask Siegfried and Roy about tigers.) When a human animal is confronted by a person or persons that look intimidating and acting threateningly, its instincts kick in.

Picture a nicely dressed white couple walking back to their uptown penthouse after an evening at the opera. They are suddenly surrounded by a group of whiter-than-white Hell's Angels-types. What emotion will be triggered in the couple? Safety, because they are surrounded by whites? I don't think so. What if that couple was Oprah and Stedman without their bodyguards? Same reaction as the white couple? Probably.

What if we substitute a gang of Crips or Bloods for the Hell's Angels? Do you think that either couple would feel any better about their situation? Be honest. Of course, they wouldn't. They would be scared s**tless. We all would (unless we were packing heat.)

Fear is situational as well as based on experience and conditioning.The fact that you fear an individual of a certain color does NOT make you a racist. It just means you are afraid.

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You will notice that I spelled out the name of the organization that Ben Jealous leads: The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. Many, many white people find groups like this offensive and racist. I am sure that the members of the NAACP do not see it that way, but that is the case. Many feel the same way about La Raza and other purely race-based advocacy organizations. While whites-only organizations have rightfully been virtually eliminated, non-white organizations, contests, pageants, groups, churches, scholarships, schools, etc. have proliferated in recent years. None of this helps achieve Dr. Martin Luther King's dream of a color-blind society.

So again we ask ourselves: How can a tragedy like Trayvon Martin happen? It is easy... Keep stirring the pot and toss in a batch of attitude. Don't let things settle down. Keep people agitated. Find a racial component in every conflict.

Problems like this racial situation will flare up periodically, but this rot will never work its way out of the American psyche until the wound is allowed to heal and a wound will never heal if it is not left alone.

I think we all know who keeps picking off the scab...

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