He spoke honestly about what it is to be African-American, specifically an African-American male, in this country. He said that, 35 years ago, he could have been Trayvon Martin. And he was and is right.
Many whites really do not understand, nor do they believe, that African-Americans have the struggles we have had since …forever. Whites complain about us complaining; they say we “whine,” and perhaps some of us do; perhaps all of us do at certain times.
But we also live lives on the edge. I as a mother had “the conversation” with my son about how to act if stopped by police. I worried about him when he got to be a teen, more so than any parent of a teen worries. I had to warn him to be careful. I had “the conversation” about how it isn’t all that safe to be black in America, in spite of his protestations that perhaps I was being too dramatic. Times have changed, Ma, he said.
Well, maybe not so much. Or at least not enough. George Zimmerman remarked that Trayvon moved, walked, too slowly. A few years ago, a black youth, tabbed by police as “suspicious,” ran, was shot, and was killed. The criticism levied was that he had brought his death on himself; he shouldn’t have run.
So, Sybrina Fulton’s observation, her question and the questions of many African-American mothers, was spot on. What do we tell our sons? Should we tell them to run? Walk quickly? Stop? Walk slowly? What?
President Obama’s question, “If Trayvon Martin had had a gun, would he have been able to stand his ground?” struck an immediate note of painful doubt, borne by experience where black youth have been arrested for things that white youth have gotten away with. Surely he would not have been able to “stand his ground,” shoot and kill George Zimmerman, and gone home. He would have been accused and probably convicted of murder. Mark O’Mara‘s comment that if Zimmerman had been black, he wouldn’t have been arrested, was pure poppycock.
The comments heard this week after the Zimmerman verdict show how deep the divide is between black and white people in this country. Juror B-37 was completely infuriating as she talked about how “they” live and talk as she referred to Rachel Jeantel. There was absolutely no awareness of cultural differences and how they are different. In her comments could be heard patronization, scorn, and worse.
All of those comments, and more, have been the polarizing statements, not what the president said. They have been polarizing and maddening, and yet, in spite of the preparation for “riots,” there has been quiet grace, people practicing “hush-mouth grace,” trying to get over yet another wound caused by America‘s disease called racism.
Perhaps some people are calling the president’s words polarizing because they will not believe that what he said he has experienced as a black man is true. Americans live in denial when it comes to racism…When someone says something about which we are in denial, on whatever subject that may be, we instinctively get angry and defensive. Our denial is the only way we can survive in too many cases.
So I understand why people are angry, but isn’t it time that America get out of denial and start the work of healing? President Obama put the ugliness of what it means to be black in America on Front Street. He aired the ugly truth, out loud. People don’t want to hear that stuff.
But that stuff is our stuff, America’s stuff. The sooner we move it from the “stuff” bin in the back of our cultural and historical closets, the sooner we can clean that closet out, air out our differences …and be the nation we are supposed to be.
A candid observation …