Many Americans are completely missing the point.
I’ve spent the last week quietly observing the commentaries and conversations that surfaced after George Zimmerman was acquitted of shooting and killing Trayvon Martin. For the most part, raw emotion and intellectual analysis have dominated public discourse. Both of these approaches resulted in almost everyone overlooking some of the simple truths that can be learned from this. And those truths aren’t hidden in the verdict or the trial.
|photo credit: Michael Fleshman via photopin cc|
I’m passionate about the injustice of racism in our society. This is mostly due to my unique perspective. After a number of years living in an African American community, I’ve finally been able to empathize with the plight of black people in this country. It used to simply be an abstract intellectual acknowledgement. Now it’s a painful reality that I’ve seen with my own eyes.
The Zimmerman verdict has only accentuated my frustrations about racism in America. For whatever reason, many white people in America are completely missing the real issues this case exemplifies. They’re spending too much time worrying about the details of the case.
What are these simple truths so many are overlooking? Here’s a peek at some of the big ones:
- Ultimately, the details of the Zimmerman trial are irrelevant. Did the prosecution file the right charges? Did the jurors really find reasonable doubt? Was there negligence in the investigation? Lots of people are asking questions like this. Initially, I asked the same ones. But, when looking at the aftermath of this verdict in a macro sense, these questions don’t matter. What matters? An African American teenage boy was shot and killed. His killer was found not-guilty. And many black people in America see this as yet another example of racially motivated injustice that has plagued our country for hundreds of years. White people need to calm down, stop obsessing about the minutia of the case, and recognize the larger issues here. Can’t we all agree that when the killer of an unarmed teenager is acquitted, some form of injustice has taken place?
- Racism continues to pervade American society. Racism is everywhere. But many white people in America have convinced themselves that it’s either gone, or that it’s way better than it used to be. They’re tragically wrong. I believe that racism today is just as bad as ever. It just looks different. A recent conversation with a black South African friend basically proves my point. You see, she grew-up under the oppression of Apartheid. Now she’s lived in the U.S. for a few years. When I asked her about it, she said that she believes racism in the U.S. is worse today than in South Africa. She said, “People are more honest about their racism in South Africa. They don’t insult you by pretending it doesn’t exist. Unlike in the U.S., we are open to having honest and at times painfully uncomfortable conversations.” If that doesn’t convince you that we still have a terrible race problem in America, this video clip will.
- We’ve forgotten the historical proximity of legalized racism, and the emotion tied to it. Events seem to fade into the distant past once they make it into history books. If you’ve read about it in “history” class, it must have happened a long time ago. This kind of thinking is dangerous. The wounds of history don’t heal quickly. For example, Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated in 1968. That means African Americans born that year are only about 45 years old today. Any African American about 50 and older probably remembers that day. They also likely remember separate bathrooms and schools. And a long list of situations where they were mistreated, hated and discriminated against just because of the color of their skin. Legally. With this perspective in mind, white people need to reconsider how they process the Zimmerman verdict. And how they respond to African American outrage about the issue. History paired with privilege can certainly cloud one’s perspective.
- Many white Americans are apathetic about racism. This is something that continues to completely baffle me. Without exception, whenever I raise the issue of racism around white people, they do their best to verbally validate my passions. But subjects quickly get changed, eyes glaze over, and discussions end. Why am I seemingly alone as a white male in my disgust and anguish over racism? Shouldn’t injustice and discrimination be a priority for everyone, particularly followers of Jesus? What can I do but assume that apathy causes this rampant disinterest?
- The refusal to acknowledge racism in our society prevents us from making any real progress. I recently had a conversation on-air about a Christianity Today article that discusses the idea of white privilege, and how it impacts our view of situations like the Zimmerman case. I simply wanted to make the point that racism still exists, and that a privileged position in society can cloud one’s perspective. For whatever reason, virtually everyone that called the radio station missed the point. People consistently called to remind us that Zimmerman isn’t white. Others wanted to debate the details of the case. They all missed the point. This type of conversation only further divides us. Can’t we simply publicly acknowledge that racism exists, and could have played a role in this case? Can’t we show a little sympathy and grief over the loss of a young life?
- After generations of injustice and despair, many African Americans have accepted a reality that is less than they deserve. Tragically, it seems that some African Americans have given-up on anything getting better than it already is. For example, I recently wrote about an outrageous situation in a Georgia high school. They literally had a segregated prom until last year. After reading my response to this, a black friend wrote, “I do too find it outrageous that this is still happening, but on the other hand I have come to accept that it’s just the way things are. Unfortunate but true.” This completely breaks my heart. And it should break yours too.
While our entire country is responsible for acknowledging these simple truths, followers of Jesus have an even deeper obligation. We’re supposed to despise injustice. We’re supposed to love everyone. And yet I’ve watched shameful responses surface from white Christians on Facebook, Twitter, blogs, and emails. This type of behavior needs to stop.
It’s my prayer that white Christians begin to feel a sense of responsibility to become agents of change in America. Let’s stand in solidarity with our African American brothers and sisters against the injustices of racism, in whatever form they appear.
If we don’t, then who will?