Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Living While Black

It is a sensational story. An unarmed, black 17-year-old male is shot while walking in a residential neighborhood in which he was visiting while coming back from the store with a bag of Skittles and a can of iced tea. The only thing that we are certain of is that the man who shot him thought that he looked suspicious,and that the man who shot him says that it was self defense. 

The basic problem that I have is the willingness of so many to accept George Zimmerman's account of events as fact. Without the public outcry of the black community and some whites there were no plans to charge him with anything. This case should have always been headed for trial to determine the facts. You cannot kill someone and say it was self defense without offering facts to support your claim. That's what is meant by an affirmative defense. Yes, I killed someone but I had good cause.

There is nothing cut and dried about Zimmerman's claim of self defense. There still has not been a medical report confirming Zimmerman's allegation that Trayvon Martin broke his nose. We don't know that Trayvon initiated the fatal confrontation. He could have resisted Zimmerman's attempt to detain him. On the 911 call, Zimmerman expresses his frustration with how "they" always get away. He doesn't specify who "they" may be. 

I find it of interest that the partial police summary clearly states that Trayvon was found face down. Was Trayvon on top of Zimmerman when Zimmerman shot him? He would have had to be on top to be banging Zimmermans head on the ground or was it the sidewalk? If Trayvon was on top and he was face down when the police arrived, did he fall over on Zimmerman when he was shot and Zimmerman wriggled out from under his body? No pun intended, but Trayvon would have been dead weight and wouldn't it have been easier for Zimmerman to push Trayvon off of him rather than slide from under Trayvon? And if he did push Trayvon's body off, is it likely that Trayvon would have landed face down? I don't know but it's something for forensic experts to consider and answer.

Why is there an assumption that Trayvon was obliged to treat Zimmerman as someone with authority? One thing that Zimmerman has not alleged is that he ever identified himself as part of the neighborhood watch to Trayvon.

Why is it that some people apparently have no problem with ZImmerman following Trayvon? Put yourself in Trayvon's shoes. There is a strange man following you. You don't know what he wants but he keeps following you. I would be wary and fearful and act defensively. How was Trayvon supposed to guess that Zimmerman was a member of the neighborhood watch and thought that he was thereby authorized to follow people? 

Zimmerman lost track of Trayvon but was so determined to follow him that he got out of his vehicle to track him down. He alleges that he couldn't find Trayvon and was heading back to his vehicle when Trayvon initiated contact with him. 

Evidently, the right to defend oneself only applies to Zimmerman. Trayvon was followed by an adult male whom he did not know. For all he knew Zimmerman was a pedophile or a kidnapper or both.

Zimmerman states that Trayvon asked, "do you have a problem with me?"  Why didn't Zimmerman identify himself as a member of the neighborhood watch and explain why he was following Trayvon? Instead, according to Zimmerman's account, he shrugged off the question and indicated that he didn't have a problem with Trayvon at which point, according to Zimmerman, Trayvon said, "Well now you do."

The majority of people have opinions on this case including those whose opinion is that the media has stirred up the frenzy about racism. Nope, living while black in this country is what makes some of us talk about racism as a factor in Zimmerman's conclusion that Trayvon looked suspicious. That and the willingness of some to declare that Trayvon was a thug and offer as proof that he was suspended from school three times and may have smoked pot. He wasn't a thug; he was a teenager. But even if he were a thug,it doesn't matter; he's dead and Zimmerman killed him, and now Zimmerman must show that he had just cause for doing so.

Zimmerman will have a trial. He will get a chance in a court of law to convince a jury that he shot and killed Trayvon for justifiable reasons. Trayvon cannot tell his side of the story. It is up to the DA and forensic experts to make certain that his side of the story is told.   

I've read stories that state that Zimmerman cries a great deal. So do Trayvon's parents.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

The Problem with White Guilt

I recently read an article by Mark Judge in The Daily Caller entitled, The end of my white guilt. Mr. Judge recounts how the theft of his bike on Good Friday made him let go of white guilt. Judge concludes that black people use "...the moral authority of past generations for their own personal gain and self-aggrandizement." But his grand conclusion is that black pain is no different than white pain, which is the fall back position of the "but I'm not a racist" crowd. We're all alike and it's black people who insist on holding on to the past. 

It's a convenient position. It allows white people to take no responsibility for current discriminatory laws and policies and to blissfully attribute racism to the willingness of black people to play the race card. Of course, they never consider that black people play the cards but white people deal the deck. When we insist that racism is still a factor in the social, political, ad economic structure of this country, they shake their heads in dismay, quickly declare, "I'm not a racist," and feel that should be the end of the conversation. 

We are not all alike; we share a history but the role in that shared history is very different based on many factors including race, ethnicity, religion, sexual orientation, and nationality. This fixation on our being one homogeneous group generally results in those who are non-white being pressured to assimilate as fully as possible, giving up our own cultural identities and accepting fully the culture of the white majority. That is the foundation of the "English only" movement. Ask Native Americans about the efforts in the United States to forcibly transform Native American cultures to European culture from 1790 to 1920. The assimilation policy included removing Native American children from their families and ending them to boarding schools to receive a "civilized" education. Canada developed a similar system of assimilation that involved removing Indian children from their families and placing them in residential schools with a goal of forced assimilation.

I'm tired of the generalization on the part of far too many white people that they have somehow borne and continue to bear the great burden of white guilt and that they've been treated so unfairly. Bullshit.  If I generalized to that extent, I would mistrust all white people and shoot them on sight. 

How often do you hear of a group of bored black teenagers deciding to kill a white man and run him over with a truck for sport? (Anderson story) How often have  black men dragged a white man behind a truck simply because he's white? (James Byrd) How often have black people covered their faces and burned crosses in people's yards to intimidate them? (Ohio cross burning 2012) How many times has a black person been acquitted after killing a 14-year-old white boy, beating him so viciously that he was unrecognizable as a human being? (Emmett Till, disturbing photo) How many 14-year-old white boys have been tried by an all black jury, convicted of murder and executed with no physical evidence tying him to the murders? (George Stinney Jr.) 

How many white bodies swinging from trees with the signs of torture applied before death have been immortalized in photographs and postcards that show hundreds and in some instances thousands of people--men, women, children, grandma and grandpa--all standing around on a family outing to watch the lynching of men and women, thrilled when the victim was a woman eight months pregnant (Remembering Mary Turner) whose belly was ripped open to insure the death of her unborn child? (American Lynching, Without Sanctuary, from Life magazine, Bill Moyers Journal)  All of these documented events took place in the 19th and 20th century, not some distant days of slavery.

There have been no instances of black adults spitting on white school children as they attempted to integrate public schools. And now, in the 21st century, black boys are being shot down for walking on a neighborhood street or for the way they are dressed; five black people in Oklahoma are shot by two white men who selected the victims based on skin color. 

I'm tired of white people insisting, "Black people commit crimes and black people kill white people too," as if that somehow mitigates the killing of black people by white people simply based on race. Of course we kill people too. People have been killing according to the tale of Cain and Abel since the beginning of time and there is nothing acceptable about the murder of anyone for any reason.  However, perpetrating this nonsense that white people are justified in fearing black people and that black people are somehow inherently dangerous and dishonest is blatant racism. 

No one ever asked white people to feel guilt. What we asked for was to be treated with equality. What we received was decades of Jim Crow laws that lasted well into the 20th century. The civil rights movement isn't ancient history and racism and racial prejudice is alive and thriving in the 21st century.

Most of the time I am in a conciliatory mode when it comes to race relations. When I was 14 I learned to play the guitar, stuck peace signs all over my guitar case, and earnestly sang Kumbayah and all the verses of We Shall Overcome. I believed with all the earnestness of the very young that our newly integrated school system was the start of a better society where we all lived together in brotherhood and sisterhood. I held on to that belief for as long as I could, with the desperation of a novice trying to climb a rock wall. 

Somewhere, deep in a brightly lit recess of my soul that belief still survives. But after 57 years on this earth, I find myself having more and more moments when the light is so dim that I can't see it any more and I truly wonder if has been extinguished. So far, like Pandora, I always eventually find that light again. But I'm older and I'm tired. Every day that I come across blatant racism, splattered across the Internet, shouting from social networking sites, reported on in the daily news, it swallows a bit of that light and I fear that one day I will remain in the darkness, angry and bitter and thoroughly disillusioned.

If you are white, and you feel uncomfortable or even attacked by my consistent reference to white people as including every white person in this country, you have experienced to some extent what it is like to be black in this country when every infraction committed by any black person is attributed to the character of all black people.

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Augusta Masters: Some Traditions Need to be Buried

The Augusta National Golf Club's no women allowed policy has been in the headlines for the last couple of days. The golf club's membership is populated by Spanky and Alfalfa of Our Gang fame, who would on occasion declare that their clubhouse was off limits--no girls allowed!

Since it's inception in 1933, Augusta hasn't allowed women to become members and just began allowing black males to wear the hallowed green jacket in 1990. The headlines pose the same question, Masters Controversy: Should Augusta Golf Club Admit Its First Female Member? Why now? Well, in addition to its tradition of not admitting women, Augusta also traditionally bestows membership on the CEOs of the Masters' three corporate sponsors. One of those sponsors is IBM, and its CEO is a woman, Ginni Rometty.

Augusta is confronted with a quandry as to which tradition to follow, the one that discriminates and treats women as second class citizens or the one that bestows a green jacket on the CEOs of the corporate sponsors of the Masters. What are chauvinistic reprobates with 19th century values to do?

It's 2012, this should not even be a question that needs to be asked. Membership in the club isn't simply about playing golf. These all male networks developed as social and business organizations. At the time of their inception, women did not play any role in the world of business or industry.

However, for some time now women have been making their way in a formerly male dominated world of business and industry. To deny women access to forums where much of the networking that is an essential part of the business world takes place is to impede the ability of women to fully participate and compete in the world of business and industry.

News anchor, Paula Faris, of ABC's World News Now, defended Augusta's practice declaring that it is a private club and it's exclusion of women is no big deal, after all there are boy scouts and girl scouts, and girls schools and boys schools. Paula, you need to go back and think it through a bit more.

This discriminatory tradition is not comparable to girl scouts and boy scouts, organizations primarily intended for children and where no one indulges in making business deals involving major corporations. Nor is it comparable to private schools segregated by gender. I personally find such gender separated institutions abhorrent, and a poor preparation for a world that isn't neatly divided by genitalia. However, I'm not making that argument today. Instead my focus is the exclusion of women from the big boys club where power deal are brokered and significant business connections are made.

We cannot have institutions that are a key part of the world of business be
closed to women based on antiquated notions of a woman's role in society or her lack of a role in the world of business.

If Augusta wishes to maintain it's male only status then it needs to strictly be a golf club and the only negotiations by its members need to be about golf. Augusta has made itself into an important cog in the world of business and industry and as such it should not be allowed to deny membership based on gender any more than it can deny membership based on race or ethnicity.

The days of "No Jews and No Coloreds" at the golf course are over. It's time to bury the "No Women Allowed" policy along side of them.

By the way, word is that Ginni Rometty plays golf.