Link after link after link after link.
Folks have sent me link after link about Trayvon Martin, asking me to write about it write about it write about it. I’ve read them all. I’ve read the articles and the reactions to the articles and the comments about the reactions to the articles. I’ve looked long and hard at all of the pictures. I’ve talked about it to no one. I’ve tried to let it all sink in.
After a few days, I think I know how I feel about this tragedy. I think I know what I think. But I feel like I can’t write about what’s in my heart because we are not supposed to tell the truth about these things. My rule is, though, that whenever I decide I can’t tell the truth about something, I must write about it truthfully immediately.
So it is with serious prayer and great fear and trembling that I set out this morning to explain what I feel and think about Trayvon Martin’s murder.
What I feel:
My, God. That precious boy. His almond brown eyes and the apples of his cheeks and his baby smooth skin. What was he thinking about as he walked through his daddy’s neighborhood that evening? A pretty girl? Video games?
His little brother waiting back home. Waiting for his big brother to return. He’ll be waiting forever. And the weary, numb masks Trayvon’s parents wear these days as they’re rocketed into the middle of a national firestorm without any time to grieve privately for their son. Their son, who was their boy, before he was a national symbol. And the Skittles in Trayvon’s pocket. Could there be a more universal symbol for innocence than Skittles in a young boy’s pocket?
And Zimmerman. God, who knows.
Maybe he’s sick. We don’t know yet. And so the rage I feel now is mostly for the “justice system.” Has this man still not been arrested? Still, this morning, while I sit and write this essay? JESUS. What does one do with that? I don’t know. I don’t know what a white woman with no direct power in the Florida police system does with that except to demand, at the top of her lungs, in the place where she’ll most likely be heard: ARREST HIM. A BOY IS DEAD. ARREST HIS KILLER AND THEN FIND OUT EXACTLY WHAT HAPPENED AND THEN TELL US. AND SENTENCE WHOMEVER NEEDS SENTENCING. AND THEN REVISIT WHATEVER THE HELL LAW IS ON THE BOOKS THAT WOULD ALLOW THIS MURDER TO HAPPEN AND THEN GO UNPUNISHED.
But I know that to rage against the broken machine and to call others to action is not enough. Those two things are just NOT ENOUGH. Not in the face of a tragedy like this. Trayvon and his family deserve more than that. They deserve more than justice. They deserve to watch the loss of their boy change the world. And so I have greater responsibilities to them. I must do more than rage.
Here are my responsibilities:
Rage. Grief. Responsibility. Refusal. Resolve.
My rage at Zimmerman and the “justice” system has transformed into a deep, quiet grief. I feel grief and I feel responsible. As a member of this family called humanity, I feel responsible. And I feel a staunch refusal to add any more fuel to this raging media fire. This fire that, if we allow it to, will eventually consume us all.
And finally - I feel a strong sense of resolve. My resolve is to turn inward.
In honor of Trayvon and each victim of racism and every other ism, I have to deal with my own prejudices. I have to look for them and talk about them. We have to start telling each other the truth. We have to talk about this. Not just in terms of them, but in terms of us.
All of this finger pointing- it’s warranted. But if we don’t eventually point that finger back towards ourselves – Trayvon’s death will be fruitless. Our anger will succeed in intensifying the war but will not allow us to roll up our sleeves and do the hard work required to make peace. It is easy to yell, it is harder to work. It is easy to make demands of others. It is much harder to make demands of ourselves.
And so our rage must be channeled into resolve. A collective resolve, to look inside. To change things, starting with ourselves. Starting with our own minds and hearts.
There isn’t one of us who knows how prejudiced she is. When we say we aren’t prejudiced, what we are really saying is that we are both prejudiced and ignorant of our own prejudice. We might mean we’re not racist. But prejudice is different than racism. Prejudice is in our subconscious. It’s there, we just don’t know it’s there until it’s too late. Until we’re already scared of the black boy in the hoodie and we don’t know why and we wish it were different but it’s not, and we find ourselves walking to the other side of the street. We have to protect ourselves, we think. We are just being logical.
And we are being logical, based on what we’ve been shown, told, and encouraged to believe.
It is night. I am walking down the street with my purse and my young son. I am approached by three black boys in hoodies. Am I afraid? Am I more afraid than I’d be if I were approached by three white boys with surfer hair and Abercrombie rugbies?
I might be more afraid. I might, whether I like it or not.
Because fear of black people – it’s been ingrained into my subconscious in myriad ways for thirty six years. The most powerful way is the flagrant imbalance of black crime media coverage versus white crime media coverage. I don’t think a black man has ever stolen from me, but I know that white men have stolen thousands of dollars from me in the stock market and mortgage scams. The fact is that I’ve never been offered drugs by a black man. All of my drugs have been offered to me by rich white fraternity boys. In Abercrombie rugbies, not hoodies.
I’ve been trained to be afraid of the wrong people. On the news and Cops and sit-com after TV drama, I watch black men being arrested. I never see the white people who steal from me get arrested. Do they ever get arrested? Where are those Wall Street guys, anyway? Where are their mug shots? I am not suggesting that the white guys are bad and the black guys are good. I’m just saying if we’re going to see any of the mug shots, we need to see all of them. Black and white. We actually NEED to see them.
Because all of these images…they get in. They sink deep, deep down . . . and they turn into thoughts, which turn into words, which turn into actions.
At some point, each of us has to admit that we are prejudiced. Not that OTHERS are prejudiced but that I am too. I am. Glennon Melton. I am prejudiced. I am the problem.
And since I am the problem, I am also the solution. And so are you.
We have to start talking about this. We have to start being honest about how we feel and why we feel it. We need to stop agreeing when people say, “I don’t see color.” C’mon. Lying is not helpful. We see it! It’s there! And so we need safe places to talk and listen and say the wrong things and be forgiven and try again. And once we’ve figured out what’s deep inside us and how it got there, we need to learn how to balance the images and ideas we present to our children – so that their collective subconscious becomes different than ours. Truer. We need scientists and psychologists and movie producers and writers and teachers and parents involved in this peace making process – not just politicians and protesters.
When one member of a family develops a mental problem, it is the whole family’s problem. Racism is a sort of mental problem, and it is OUR problem. It is everyone’s problem who counts herself part of the human race.
I pray that justice will be served for Trayvon. I demand it, as a matter of fact.
But I want more than justice. I want change.
And I’m just here to say that I need help. I think we all need help. We need to find a way to get inside our own minds and turn them inside out. For Trayvon.
Help us, God.
Help us fix our human family.
*Post Script – For the sake of clarity as you begin to post comments- I just want to make sure I emphasize that this essay was meant to be a reflection about two things:
1. The police response to the murder. I am not suggesting that Zimmerman be sentenced tomorrow, just arrested and questioned. Whether it was murder or manslaughter- provoked or unprovoked – an unarmed boy is dead, right? And Zimmerman shot him right? We DO have those two facts. And so here’s where race walks in- in my opinion. Maybe not with Zimmerman’s concern with, pursuit and shooting of Trayvon – what if it WAS some hideous accident???? – but with the RESPONSE to the shooting. Because the truth for me, in my gut…says that if Trayvon were white, Zimmerman’d be arrested by now. At least arrested and questioned. Likely the same night Trayvon died. I don’t LIKE that I think that’s the truth. I just DO. And that was my point here. That I believe strongly that Trayvon’s race played a role in the RESPONSE to the murder. And I think that’s worth talking about. If you worry that I’m attacking Zimmerman here, please – re-read the above essay before deciding.
Like everyone else here is saying- we just need the rest of the facts instead of rumors. But in order to GET the facts – we need a police investigation instead of a media investigation. People keep saying… BUT WE DON’T have the facts…and I’m just saying – EXACTLY! How are we going to get them? Our best shot is a thorough investigation.
2. What I believe is one of the many appropriate responses to this tragedy – soul searching and intentional peace making.