lundi, juillet 15, 2013

Our white problem

When I thought about it last night (once I got past my shock that a man who killed an unarmed teenager didn't get charged with anything), I really wasn't surprised at the verdict that acquitted George Zimmerman.

And it's not because I thought the jury was a bunch of racists or that the judge had done a poor job.

The prosecution went after a second degree murder charge, which made the case tough to try.

 Now the Justice Department has opened its own investigation to see if Martin's civil rights were violated.

There's also the possibility of a civil suit. When the rules of evidence are less restrained, Trayvon Martin's parents have a better chance of winning.

What's partly getting lost in the debate about race is the state of the law regarding gun violence (or gun rights). The way the "stand your ground" law is constructed favors the  rights of the shooter over the victim. And apparently, the people of Florida and about half of the other states across the country like it that way.

We can't seem to mobilize ourselves to battle the rising tide of vigilantes out there.

But we can make a choice to battle something more insidious and historically more persistent.

It's time to stand with our black brothers and sisters, white folk.

Trust me, I'd love to believe that we were past the question of skin pigment.

I'd like to think that we live in a post racial culture in which my daughter could marry a black man and it would make no difference to anybody.

I'd like to believe that black people get as big of a built in advantage when it comes to jobs that whites do.

This past year I've listened to black college students grapple with being called the "N" word by students on their own campus.

I've heard my own classmates at the school that I attend as a grad student describe a climate of "benign neglect" when it comes to racial issues. We can talk about supporting GLBT students, and professors do. Often.  But somehow, when diversity is the topic, African American students rarely get mentioned.

Several months ago I heard an NPR commentator say that as many Hispanics from other cultures assimilated into American society, they described themselves as, guess what, "white."

Not all, of course.  And for some brown-skinned immigrants, that's not an option.

In the wake of the Zimmerman verdict, my mind went back to that interview. The notion that white skin is desirable is persistent, often unreferenced, and toxic.

As a convert who has spent most of her life living among people who are not of her ethnic group, I know something of prejudice. I've heard it on the lips of some acquaintances and yes, friends, who didn't realize I was not of their tribe.

Perhaps that is, in part, why I do not belong to anyone's clan. Growing up in the melting pot of Brooklyn and being raised by kin with a passion for social justice also gave me a sensitivity to "otherness."

But as child of Jewish parents, I could "pass" in Christian circles, choose when to answer the slurs or when to be shamefully silent.

People of color don't have that choice. They can't walk away, even if temporarily, from the hue of their flesh.

And in a society which reinforces the idea that white skin is better skin (and, by extension, black skin is more dangerous),  it becomes harder to fully embrace one's astounding inner beauty.

Looked at logically, it's ridiculous to think that the color of your skin should define your aspirations, your income, your health.

But to a large extent, in our culture, it still does.

The rules aren't hard and fast.  The reasons for white dominance are complex, and so are race relations and relationships. In no way do I want to simplify this.

 Yet white skin privilege still runs rampant in our culture.

And until those of us who have it acknowledge it, until we choose to abandon that shabby, injurious and hateful old paradigm, black parents will have to continue to warn their sons (and sometimes, their daughters) to keep a wary eye on many of the whites around them.

Do you want to carry that burden?

Isn't it time, close to 50 years after Martin Luther King's march on Washington, more than 150 years after the Civil War started, that we woke up and started doing something about it?

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