After Trayvon

After Trayvon


I tend to shy away from racial issues on this forum, and the only other time I can recall commenting was in the context of Jackie Robinson and racial tensions that linger in Philadelphia to this day.  I side with Mayor Michael Nutter of Philadelphia, who says in the current issue of Time Magazine:

“We can change things–that I know. The question is, are we ready to do it? Are we willing to set ego aside, be vulnerable and hear things that none of us necessarily want to hear? We have to try right now, because our children are dying in the streets every day.”

Here is President Obama’s speech to the press regarding the issue, in which he did not take questions:

President Obama duly notes that each generation is getting better at handling the race issue.  He concludes by noting that this generation, his daughters specifically and in the communities he’s visited are getting better.  “Today’s kids having more sense than we did”, he observes.  That is certainly true for some incredibly fine young men and women of all colors that I have in my practice.  But in urging all Americans to relate to feelings in the African-American community about the case,  consider this video from the trial, involving testimony from Trayvon Martin’s friend:

Now here is the irony.  George Zimmerman is no more – pardon the expression, I’m only quoting the witness here – a “white ass cracker” than is President Obama.  Excuse me?  That’s correct.  Both George Zimmerman and Barack Obama have one parent who is Caucasian and one who is not.  Zimmerman’s mother, Gladys, is from Peru, and he had good Latino roots growing up.  His family was proud of their biculturalism.

Yes, as President Obama says, context is important.  There are very few African-American men who haven’t had the experience of walking across the street and hearing locks click on the doors of cars – it happened to President Obama before he was a senator.  Many African-American men have had the experience of getting on an elevator and having a woman clutching her purse nervously and holding her breath until she gets off.  These sets of experiences inform the African-American community, yet as President Obama acknowledged that African-American males are both disproportionately represented as perpetrators and victims in the criminal justice system.  The fact that this statistic paints African-American young men with a broad brush without acknowledging a bias that pains the community.

Pastor James David Manning may be no saint, and he has been a harsh critic of President Obama.  Perhaps not everything he preaches is rational – one might even conclude that this video clip has an element of histrionics, but he says something at the two minute mark of this video that should be given some serious thought.

This is the thought question posed by Pastor Manning:  Forget George Zimmerman.  Let’s say you’re a pastor called out at 7 o’clock at night to the Martin Luther King Projects.  You park your car, walk into the lobby and into the elevator.  Before the door closes a 17 year old boy gets in with a hoody on.  It’s just you and him on that elevator.  Alone.  Tell me, what do you think?  Do you think you need to be concerned?  Are you afraid of him?  Do you have suspicions because of the hoody and the color of his skin and are, you thinking about the need to protect yourself?

I was in Florida at the end of February last year just after the Trayvon Martin shooting took place, and it was clear that this would be a “no-win situation” irrespective of the outcome.  I agree with President Obama that some serious soul-searching is in order, but I don’t think he went quite far enough.  My thinking is more in line with Mayor Michael Nutter, even though some have painted him as they have Bill Cosby as an apologist of sorts.  I agree that sense and nonsense don’t co-exist, and that one gets respect by giving respect.  There’s a reason he got a standing ovation at the end of his remarks:

I realize that not everyone is this country has the same opportunities for achievement.  But as I finish writing this I am thinking of a special African-American teen in our practice who I sense will be successful because his mother is so dedicated to putting him in a position to succeed.  No one can predict the future, but when you’re surrounded by good role models, good things are more likely to happen.  And when you’re not ….

About Leonard J. Press, O.D., FAAO, FCOVD

Developmental Optometry is my passion as well as occupation. Blogging allows me to share thoughts in a unique visual style.
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