Author of Adam and Steve, a novel about reexamining your prejudices

Posts tagged ‘African-American’

Walk a Mile in their Moccasins

What does the name of Washington, DC’s football team and the 30-mile ridge along the Allegheny Mountains stretching from western Maryland into Pennsylvania have in common?  The names are considered by some to be offensive. For decades, Native Americans, with respect to “Redskins”, and African-Americans, with respect to “Negro” Mountain, have sought to rid the region of these lingering relics of a bygone era. Recognizing that each group’s separate efforts have resulted in little to no success, Cortland Milloy, a columnist for the Washington Post, called for African-Americans and Native Americans to pool their resources to create a stronger voice, one more likely to be heeded. Http://articles.washingtonpost.com/2013-01-29/local/36612601_1_offensive-names-washington-redskins-mount-davis.

On another front, Julian Bond and others are trying to forge “a national constituency for civil rights” that includes all Americans standing together to level the playing field for all Americans in our ongoing momentous struggle against inequality and injustice.  After all, as Mr. Bond says, “[lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender] rights are civil rights” worthy of inclusion in our “historic struggle for civil rights” and justice. A critical mass having the power to cut short a politician’s career or detrimentally affect the finances of a reluctant team owner has a better chance of educating the more callous among us and effecting change.

To speak in one voice, however, requires identifying with another’s feelings. Because intolerance is an equal opportunity victimizer, targeting a wide range of characteristics, including race, religion, national origin, gender, sexual preference, age and disability, almost all of us have had the “slings and arrows” of intolerance leveled directly at us. One would think empathy would come easy. Yet, it is still in short supply where intolerance is concerned.

We feign a failure to notice. We stand apart as if we are safe while the “other” is victimized – a “better him than me” mentality. We defend our prejudices by blaming the “other’s” thin-skin. We may even participate in offensive rituals to mask our own fear of being targeted or to pump ourselves up into believing that we are better than “them”. Even if we can say with all certainty that we are not bigots, racists or homophobes, who among us can say we have not laughed at an ethnic joke or said something stereotypically stupid?

Yet, we seethe when vitriol is leveled against us, and are blithely unaware when vitriol spews from us.  Now is the time to walk a mile in their moccasins. Now is the time to feel someone else’s pain. To paraphrase Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., on this the 50th anniversary of his historic March on Washington – “No one is free [of injustice and intolerance] until everyone is free [of injustice and tolerance]”.

Martin Luther King, Jr.

Martin Luther King, Jr. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

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The back-firing of the “George Zimmerman” Defense

For the most part, those macho white males who love their guns and their right to carry and use them whenever and wherever they please enacted in over 30 states “Stand Your Ground” laws. These laws permit individuals to defend themselves with deadly force when they feel threatened, an extraordinarily subjective standard affected by, among other things, prejudice, intolerance and racial profiling. Even in New York City where minorities make up more than half the population and racial profiling abounds, carrying a gun is a white man’s sport. The NYPD stops African-Americans and Latinos 84% of the time, although they comprise only 54% of the population. Of those stops, the NYPD is more likely to discover a weapon on one of 49 whites as compared to one of 93 African-Americans. SeeStop and Frisk and the Urgent Need for Meaningful Reforms, issued by the Office of Bill de Blasio, Public Advocate for the City of New York, 2013.

Under Florida’s “Stand Your Ground” law, a jury acquitted George Zimmerman, a neighborhood watch volunteer, of murdering Trayvon Martin, an African-American youth. In doing so, the jury defined the parameters of the threat necessary to kill with impunity.  Although Zimmerman stalked Martin, Martin apparently caused his own death when he stood his ground and, although unarmed,  confronted an armed Zimmerman. A fight ensued with Martin overpowering the beefier and more out of shape Zimmerman. Zimmerman, more frightened of Martin than Martin was of Zimmerman, was then free to fatally shoot the teenager. See, http://wapo.st/18mnWVo.

The defense protested that race was not an issue. Yet, it was. Like so many Americans, including law enforcement professionals and wannabes, George Zimmerman racially profiled his target. A tall and strapping African-American youth walked before him after dark in a residential neighborhood, with hood covering his head. In Zimmerman’s world, he needed nothing more in order to fear the teenager.  Nonetheless, more could have been present. Because Zimmerman carried a gun, he might have had a heightened sense of paranoia – definitely not something George Zimmerman or Trayvon Martin needed on that dark, Florida street. See, Notre Dame Study referred to in: Study: Carrying a gun can make you more paranoid, http://smrt.io/GJWRYk.

We have heard a myriad of calls for calm directed at our African-American community, a community with the right to be angry. Because of racial profiling, one of their and our own was killed. Yet we have heard nothing directed at our non-African American community cautioning that the “Stand Your Ground” laws do not grant free rein to harass, hurt and kill those different from themselves.

Thanks to that Florida jury, we are all fair game to the possible unintended consequences of the Zimmerman verdict. To the victim of profiling, remember Trayvon Martin. The danger to your life from a man following you is very real. If you stand your ground and kill the stalker with your concealed weapon, Zimmerman’s jury may have handed you a tried and true defense.  To the woman who has always felt that chill of fear walking a dark street with a man too close behind, you might now have the right to stand your ground and take his life, making him the next victim of the “George Zimmerman” defense.  The white man’s hard-fought for right to carry and use firearms may very well have just backfired.

TrayvonMartinHooded

Image of Trayvon Martin courtesy of: http://trayvonmartinfoundation.org/about/

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