I don’t lock my car doors when a black person walks by at night (like many of my friends do).
But I know that I don’t.
The thought rarely crosses my mind when the person walking by is white.
I’ve been choosing where to go to church for over 15 years, but I’ve never been a member of a church that had more blacks than whites. I’ve never even visited a “black church” with the intention of possibly joining. I can choose where I want to live, but I’ve never lived in a neighborhood, or apartment complex, that was primarily African American. Aside from my tenure at UPS, I’ve never worked at a place where I was the minority. Of even greater significance, I’ve never even applied to work where I’d be in the minority.
I went to an undergrad that first accepted a black student in 1963. By the time I got there it was still predominately white–and it wasn’t even close. I went to a seminary that desegregated in 1965, and it also remains predominantly white to this day. It does, however, have a Black Student Fellowship. There is no need for a White Student Fellowship.
I think Ebonics sounds ignorant, but redneck sounds cultural.
I have hundreds of contacts in my phone. Precious few are black. I have over 1000 friends on Facebook, with about the same ratio as my phone.
It’s not enough for some of us to admit, “I could have been Trayvon Martin.” Others must also confess the inverse:
I could have been George Zimmerman.
Determining whether or not Zimmerman acted from racial motives isn’t my priority (the FBI says he didn’t). Determining where I still act from racial motivation is. The KKK has passed from relevance, but subtle racism like mine maintains a stranglehold on racial progress. Zimmerman may not have shot Trayvon because he was black, but everything about that night and the subsequent trial only served to reinforce various racial fault lines, or scripts. “Each side is using a racial script. Everyone’s script involves a racial perspective. Everyone’s.”
It’s very likely that Zimmerman’s actions had far more to do with ignorance, foolishness, and misplaced bravado than racism. And perhaps Trayvon even acted the part of the thug. Regardless our opinion of what transpired that night, we do ourselves a favor to learn from what we know happened in its aftermath: a significant percentage of our population said our country still staggers under the weight of racism.
This is why Trayvon Martin and Zimmerman’s case matters so much. When one life, one death, one case ignites so many passions and incites such a depth of reaction, we have several options. We can downplay the position of those with whom we disagree, or we can seize the opportunity to examine our own lives for blind spots.
When we rush to politicize, we squander the opportunity to personalize.
I am a racist, but I don’t want to be. I will continue to strive to be better than, more than, a racist. I am a racist, but I don’t always have to be. I am a racist, but with the help of Jesus Christ, one day I will not be.
This is my salient takeaway from the Trayvon Martin case.