Over the course of the many days, weeks, and months since the tragic death of a seventeen year old teen, much has been debated and said about what is justice in today’s United States. Color-lines have been drawn in many cases, as reactionary as they were during the Jim and Jane Crow Eras in this country. Sentiment remains mixed with an output of social consciousness and outrage. Protests in the streets and even a Presidential Address about race and its lingering effects on society have taken place. With all of this being said, there still seems to be something absent from the conversation. Something that is as systemic as the endemic racism that encapsulates this country even when many emphatically attempt to deny its existence.
“What is this item that I speak of?” you may now find yourself puzzlingly asking. It is the way that many of us have, due to the reality that “race” and “racism” are as “American” as “apple pie?” How dare I make such suggestions when we now have a “Black” president elected for not only one term, but two. Not when we post pictures of a “Black” First Lady and praise the couple’s two beautiful and charming “Black” daughters. We are in a post-racial society where we all need to be “color-blind” and just see each other as only human. Furthermore, we see only the “human race” as we are all “Americans,” so the story goes.
And let us not forget our Constitutional rights that are also at stake when we critically engage the tragedy that was not solely Trayvon Martin, but dare I say, George Zimmerman. For many who are of African descent and/or are starch allies, this utterance by one of their very own will seem outright blasphemous or a betrayal on the legacy of our shared struggle. Continuing to hide behind the scapegoat of the Second Amendment, the right to bear arms as some continue to champion. Since and even before 9/11, we remain fed heavy doses of fear through all forms of media. A land built on propaganda continues to manufacture reasons to shape and craft the thoughts of a society and the globe. What is this fear that I am now speaking of? The same fear that endured the antebellum plantations, the uprising of darker-skinned property, for at the time still not viewed as human. That task is still a work in progress; if you look hard enough you’ll still see measures of hatred and thoughts of superiority for no other reason than social dogma propagated for generations.
As history has told us, as it has been crafted within our educational textbooks, that the legacy of wrongdoing is still not ready to be fully addressed. We’ve had apologies and offered reparations for instances for select members of our Union yet we still find ways to avoid fully addressing the wrongs done to our Native community members. They, as the rest of “the minorities” must have done something wrong, right? They must not want to be successful? They don’t care about education? Why don’t they want to learn to speak proper English? Why don’t they… (I’ll let you fill in the blank). In each instance, one thing remains clear. We often will acknowledge there is a problem but how we perceive it beyond that is what I really want to address.
We call it, “victim blaming rationalization. A response to a social problem—such as injustice toward a minority group—that identifies the problem as a deficiency in the minority group and not a societal problem, as in ‘If poor people want to escape poverty they just have to be willing to work harder” (Koppelman & Goodhart, p. 42). In a similar vein, this is what often happens when race and racism are at the center of public debate. We don’t want to acknowledge the legacy that has driven the nation’s politics and social norms. We have short-term memories on who were discriminated against based on existing notions of privilege and whiteness within the society. Because by doing, so this often causes us to have to challenge or relinquish our own interests.
In a nation that politically and morally does what is in the best interest of itself– well, actually in the best interests of the wealthy and/or powerbrokers–in most that it does, we are confounded with fundamental issues. So when we see poverty, we blame the poor. When we see ignorance, we blame the uneducated. Yet we rarely make headway when we blame the system in which all of the social malfunctions are perpetuated and maintained. Because it will cause us to have to own the possibility that we have to sacrifice, have to struggle, have to actively become a part of the larger community without guarantee that we will get everything that our hearts desire. Interest theory explains why we discriminate and/or justify not supporting our community in the ways that we want the community to support us.
Why does any of this matter when it comes to victim-blaming rationalization and the tragedy that are the circumstances that envelope the death of Trayvon Martin and the public outcry about George Zimmerman’s acquittal? Simple, it is indicative of the legacy that is seamlessly embedded within the laws that govern this country. It is born out of the enterprise of Capitalism and globalization that fosters the extension of a set of cultural norms and values that some say only sees green. We see it in the manner in which a hoodie has become a symbol that, for some, can be likened to sad a day back in Mississippi when a young teen was kidnapped and killed for whistling at Carolyn Bryant outside of the Bryant Grocery and Meat Market. We see it in other cases that have been highlighted since the verdict across the country. Culturally, instances like these resonate with the past and current experiences people of African descent have within the United States.
We, as we’ve been socialized through the prism of racism, tend to dichotomize things to the simplest way possible. What do I mean by this statement? Well if you’ve ever said, “It’s as simple as black and white” then you’ve done it. What many don’t really know is what they’re implying with this question is that they are acknowledging their own limitations in the situation. They are acknowledging that they are limited in their ability to see the complexity, which is at the heart of this tragedy. The intellectual prison is on display in the form of either/or mentalities that many of our public schools promote as part of the greater enterprise. The ignorance of this and other aspects of injustice are running prevalent in this country, some would expect to be said. Yet all of this is exactly why our society will continue to work in a disjointed fashion. We, as a society, are fragmented, splintered, lacking cohesion in the saddest of ways. We are apathetic unless, sheepishly, we are moved to action by our twitter, facebook, and/or other social media feeds. We click buttons as opposed to working to shape lives beyond our own doorsteps. We impatiently wait for the next person to do what we ourselves need to accomplish. We do what’s easiest and most natural– we yell, we talk, we pray, and then we ultimately forget. Until we all recognize that injustice to any one of us is injustice to all of us, we will continue to be reminded of inconsequence of being othered in this othering space known as the United States of America…
To be continued…