14 July 2013

Safety and Race

Last night the George Zimmerman case's verdict came out, and he was found not guilty of murder or manslaughter. I will allow others to touch on discussing the trial, the verdict, etc. I don't feel the proper person to address the verdict, though I do want to discuss my thoughts as society moves forward.

Depending on how my reaction to something is going, I often try to take a day before making any statements about it. I didn't immediately respond when I heard the verdict, but did post on Tumblr and Facebook last night:

Humanity is engaged in a constant struggle for justice. The arc of history bends towards justice, yet justice is not always delivered. We must be ever vigilant, and continue to push forward with the struggle for justice. 

Some days come that remind us just how much more work we have to do. Some days remind us that certain groups of people live in fear simply for who they are. Sometimes we see security used as a guise for something else. Sometimes we see unintended consequences. We must ever push for justice.

Some days are a tough reminder that certain groups, such as teenagers and People of Color, are often forced into a state of fear by society.

We must continue to push for justice. Be conscious of what voices are not at the table. Be thoughtful of potential consequences and be vigilant in working to fix harmful unintended consequences. Speak up for justice, and try to be aware of the forces that are driving the systems and emotions of those around you.
 

Some days are a tough reminder that certain groups, such as teenagers and People of Color, are often forced into a state of fear by society. 

We must continue to push for justice. Be conscious of what voices are not at the table. Be thoughtful of potential consequences and be vigilant in working to fix harmful unintended consequences. Speak up for justice, and try to be aware of the forces that are driving the systems and emotions of those around you.
Regardless of how you feel about the decision, one thing should be obvious - People of Color are afraid. As one post I saw put it:


A common aspect of white privilege is assumed innocence (there are a few other features that fit into this, but the perception of light skin is definitely a large component). Nobody follows me around a store. I rarely feel unsafe when out at night, even when alone. I could take a stroll through many suburban neighborhoods, even at night, and my presence could likely be easily explained away by stating that I'm visiting and needed a breath of fresh air or couldn't sleep. People of Color frequently do not get this pass. I typically ride the bus to my office, and on these trips I frequently overhead comments concerning how the Trayvon Martin case was going. People were informed and they were concerned. They questioned what this meant for their own safety.

Regardless of how you feel about the verdict it should be clear that a group of people feels unsafe based solely on an immutable characteristic of themselves. These feelings are valid and justified. Laws like "Stop and Frisk" and "Stand Your Ground" have a wealth of statistics now showing their negative unintended consequences based on race (and we are waiting to see on "Papers Please"). People of Color have decades of life experiences that reinforce the fear for their safety, and centuries of transmitted experiences.

People are living in a state of fear that society has forced upon them. These experiences aren't uncommon either. My brother and I saw an incident here in Saint Paul, Minnesota a few weeks ago. A Muslim Woman of Color and her three children were shopping for groceries, and a white man went out of his way to go call them terrorists, and went on a rant from there. The man was removed after employees were alerted, but what kind of atmosphere does that create? What must that embed in the minds of those children?

Racism is systemic. It is taught young, continually reinforced, and the facts are typically overlooked in favor of what makes the white majority feel the most comfortable.

If nothing else, Facebook should have illuminated a number of people's feelings today. Several of my Facebook friends have set the following picture to be their profile:

People are connecting the dots. We don't have to live in a world where somebody gets theirs and doesn't care what happens to others. The system doesn't have to be like this. This is how WE, as SOCIETY, have made the system. As another post I saw put it:




After saying all of this anybody who knows me knows I am a pretty strong optimist. I really do think the arc of history bends towards justice (even if there are setbacks along the way). Sometimes we need a stark reminder of what the system looks like. Regardless of what happened in the Zimmerman Trial, these events should illuminate the lack of security that many people of color have. We can change that. We can fight for justice, we can fight for equality, we can fight for equal opportunities (and when I say equal opportunities I include the need for equal starting positions and equal access to merit).

As I said earlier, People of Color have decades of life experience and centuries of transmitted experiences on the systems of racism that exist in this country. We have statistics on the intended and unintended consequences of a number of our actions. We can improve the system. We can create a society that is safer for People of Color (and will be safer for us all), but we have to work for it. We have to want it.

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