In light of the recent racially-charged murder trial of George Zimmerman, I've noticed that quite a few people reacted to his acquittal with glee, almost gloating in the process. This post is directed towards those folks who unwittingly have deepened the racial divide in this country with their insensitivity and by their attempt to ignore it. To engage them I've formulated a few questions they might ask, with some answers.
1) Why do you follow such grandstanders as Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton, who go places for the express purpose of stirring up racial strife?
Well, not really -- a lot of us aren't completely sold on either of them for different reasons. Keep in mind, however, that they're not part of the "system" and thus maintain sufficient independence from it to be able to speak prophetically to the nation at large -- and they must be somewhat effective, otherwise you wouldn't be complaining about them. By the way, the very same charge was often made toward Martin Luther King Jr.; 50 years ago this spring the campaign to desegregate Birmingham, Ala. began, and a lot of people then and there complained about "outside agitators" even though he had been invited in.
Oh, and contrary to popular opinion, they're not "stirring up racial strife" where none had previously existed -- you don't realize that it already had been stirred up; at the time of Trayvon Martin's death there had already been marches and rallies nationwide then. Hear me, people -- nationwide.
2) Why don't African-Americans spend more time on righting the wrongs in their own community, such as black-on-black crime, bad schools, broken families etc.?
In fact, we do. Here in Pittsburgh, never a year goes by without at least one "Stop the Violence!" march -- which often makes the news -- and it's a common complaint at the funerals of black boys and young men who were shooting victims. Moreover, we've done numerous things to foster change, with all kinds of programs and initiatives that are in fact known to the public, too many to list in this post.
But here's what you don't understand: We also want the same kind of access to education, employment and such things as anyone else, which we can't always get for a number of different reasons. That's why mere "hard work" and "personal responsibility," which we do believe in and practice, don't suffice to effect change.
3) Why focus on race so much? Didn't Dr. King say that he hoped to "live in a land where my four little children are not judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character?"
He did say that, but if you listen to or read the rest of that speech you'll notice that he made abundantly clear that it certainly wasn't the case on Aug. 28, 1963, the day he delivered it. And based on other reports I've heard, Zimmerman didn't believe it, either. Besides, virtually all African-Americans of or above a certain age have what we colloquially called "lynching stories"; I could share with you mine, but I won't go there right now.
4) Can't you just "forgive and forget?"
Many of us African-Americans are Christians, which means that we do believe in and practice the doctrine of forgiveness. However, you have to understand what forgiveness entails: It's not about ignoring, minimizing or condoning evil acts; it's about removing them as obstacles to reconciliation, not exactly an easy process if you've ever had to go through it.
"Forgetting," on the other hand, is neither practical nor desirable; remember the old adage "Those who forget the past are doomed to repeat it." Even after the back of Jim Crow was broken in the South, laws were passed against segregation to make sure that it didn't return. Also, remember that two of the 12 steps of Alcoholics Anonymous refer to "making amends" -- which means fixing, as much as possible, the damage that had been done. (No, I don't mean "reparations.")
And that's ultimately where I'm going with this. I'm pleading for a spirit of repentance on everyone's part so that we can build together the "beloved community" that Dr. King so eloquently spoke of, but that simply won't be possible with the type of hardened hearts that many of you have displayed in this situation. I invite you to listen to our historic pain so that you can get a better sense of what we have to struggle with in the hopes that you can truly identify with it and understand our mourning, of which Trayvon's death is but a symbol. That was in fact the real lesson of Jesus' parable of the "good Samaritan."
May God have mercy on us all.