The Scabs That Won't Heal: Racial Injustice, Stereotypes & Social Ills
America is in denial. Everyday millions of us of various ethnicities, religions and sexual orientations congregate together in our places of work, at our schools/universities and public spaces exchanging politically correct pleasantries as we interact with each other. All the while, boiling deep, down inside many of us lies unconscious, deep-seated stereotypes and misconceptions about the very people (co-workers, neighbors, store patrons, etc.) we come in contact with on a daily basis; and we’ve been carrying these racial wounds since childhood.
Don’t believe me? Two years ago, CNN conducted a study on children’s attitudes on race. In one of the segments, a 5-year-old white girl from Georgia was asked a series of questions based on a board that had pictures of identical looking cartoon-type girls that ranged in skin color for light to dark. When the interviewer asked the girl who is smart, the 5-year-old pointed to the lightest child. When she was asked who was mean, she pointed to the darkest child. According to CNN, the 5-year-old’s answers were a reflection of one of the major findings of the survey. It revealed that “white children have an overwhelming bias to whites and black children ALSO have a bias toward whites, but not nearly as the bias shown by white children.”
In a world where whites feel as if they have to walk on egg shells when discussing race for fear of being classified as a narrow-minded racist and where blacks are afraid to report or verbally express when they have experienced a form of prejudice for fear of “pulling out the race-card,” people have decided to remain silent on the subject. It is not until a tragedy—like the Trayvon Martin case—happens that causes people to come out of the shadows. This case has forced many Americans to face its painful, dysfunctional relationship with race and prejudice, a subject that is rarely discussed in some households. In 2007, the Journal of Marriage and Family found that 75 percent of white families with kindergartners never, or almost never, talk about race. While the stats were reserved for black parents, 75 percent of them discuss race with their children.
Just when we think the racial scabs of this country are finally healing, something happens that reopens an already slow-healing wound, causing further pain.
Not since the arrest of Dr. Henry Louis Gates that resulted in the “beer summit” has the issue of race polarized the American public. The Trayvon Martin murder has sparked an outrage from people of all races questioning how could someone who killed an unarmed young man still walk around freely; it has allowed people to look at themselves in the mirror and question how they stereotype others; and has unfortunately turned into a political circus from players on both sides of the isle using his death as a way to take on other issues. Through all of this, Trayvon’s family is seeking just one thing: justice.
While many see this as a great opportunity for a great debate, I’m sure if Trayvon’s parents had their ultimate wish—instead of the TV specials, editorials (like this one) and radio commentary on this issue—their son would be alive and they would be helping him sort through college acceptance letters instead of sorting through dozens of media appearance requests from every Tom, Dick and Harry news outlet looking to get a piece of this story. But unfortunately this is a cruel world and unfair things happen to innocent people. So here we are in a supposedly post-racial America debating a decades old issue: racial profiling. How we address this tragedy can either help America turn over a new leaf or it could drive us further apart as a nation.
Mirror Mirror On The Wall Who’s The Prejudiced of Them All
If there were a national poll of every American of all ethnic backgrounds that asked if they were racist it would be safe to say that most people would say that they are in fact not prejudiced. But is that reality? While people are attacking George Zimmerman on how his preconceived notions on black males caused someone’s death, many of us are blind to our own prejudices. Don’t we all harbor some form of prejudice (great or small)? I was having this conversation with a group of friends one weekday evening over dinner. A black male admitted that he felt uncomfortable getting on a plane with someone who looked Middle Eastern. I proposed a question: What if a white person did not want to ride in your carpool for fear of getting robbed? “Well that’s racist?” he said. And your thoughts aren’t? In a way it’s silly if you think about it. No one in their right mind would assume a well-dressed African American male who pulls up to a DC Metro (subway) station at 7 am to drive people to the District would attack or rob them. But many people look at the thousands of people from Middle Eastern countries that way everyday on airplanes, even as they travel with their small children and elderly parents. They are law-abiding citizens who want to safely land in their destination just as much as you do. Just because there are extremists in the Muslim community who want to harm others exists, we can’t assume every person who has olive skin or wears certain religious attire are out to take down the plane.
I’m sure George Zimmerman never considered himself to be a racist just as my friend doesn’t. I don’t know Zimmerman personally so I can’t possibly know what he harbors in his heart, but the reality is that we let images we see in the media dictate how we view others. You see faces of black males’ mug shots on the nightly news, so when one walks toward you on the street you clutch your purse a little tighter just in case he tries to snatch it. You see images of Latino men standing in front of Home Depots looking for work or read stories about them getting pulled over without a license, so you assume that all Hispanics are illegal, day laborers. You hear about another terrorist threat from a Muslim extremist group, so when a Middle Eastern man sits next to you on the plane, for a split second you wonder if he’s wearing a bomb. You see images of black teens participating in flash mobs, so you follow a group of black females who walk in your store just in case someone slips an item in their bag. Zimmerman took one look at Trayvon and assumed the worst about him: he was on drugs and up to no good (recorded on the 911 tape). His paranoia came after a string of burglaries—in a span of 15 months—that were committed all by young black males, according to his neighbor and supporter Frank Taafee. All along, Zimmerman’s friends and family have contended that this shooting was not about race but self-defense. But listening to Taafee discuss the case in an interview with Soledad O’Brien, it looks like Zimmerman judged Trayvon based on previous incidents in the gated community. When O’Brien pressed him on how the prior incidents related to Trayvon’s death, Taafee responded with, “There’s an old saying if you plant corn, you get corn.” And then goes on to say later in the interview that, “It is what it is. It is what it is.”
Now, how do you judge others?