Friday, April 6, 2012

It's Worth Talking About

Today, I came across an article posted on a friend's Facebook page:

It's a blog post, and yes, there are lord-knows-how-many rediculious blog posts out there in the world. I hesitated to respond at first because who needs more chatter, right? But, I felt that I had a perspective to lend (although, I don't know how many people will find and read my comment, as it's 1 in 800 others).

There's been a lot of crazy-talk revolving around the case of Trayvon Martin, and there has also been a lot of valuable discussion. Personally, I feel that we can never overcome tough issues in our communities and culture without bringing them out into the open and chewing over them together. So while I really, really, really disagree with this woman's viewpoint on the issue, I am glad that she put it out there, and I am impressed and encouraged by the discussion it's provoked. Hopefully it will help all who participated to see the issue of race and racial profiling in America in a different, more human, light. And hopefully, we can take the opportunity to understand each other better, find more empathy for others, and grow from the debate.

Read the article. Browse the comments (I really identified with "Brittani McNeill" (posted April 6th, at 12:42pm) - I think she sees the issue clearly, and seemed to have a pretty intimate experience with both cases the blogger presents). Below is the comment I posted.....

This is an interesting argument, and it seems that in it you've crystalized some of what many people have been feeling about the Trayvon Martin case.
Violence and murder between any two human beings is tragic. The 2 cases we're discussing here certainly exemplify needless killing, and I ache for the families who have lost their loved ones for absolutely no reason at all. The point is we all bleed, we all hurt, and when someone is killed there are nearly always others left in sorrow and confusion.

But speaking to the issue you're really discussing: Racial profiling. It's wrong and it's obviously harmful. But the 2 cases you presented are not the same.
The case of Eve Carson is horrific. She died senselessly. But, as you yourself described, she was attacked with the goal of robbery and carjacking - for financial gain. I say this NOT IN THE LEAST to diminish the cruelty of the crime or to explain it away, only to put perspective on your argument about racial profiling. Was she idenitfied as vulnerable because she was a woman? That is probable (and not an uncommon assumption made about all women, of any race). Did they assume she was rich because she was white? Possibly. Did all of these assumptions contribute to their decision to viciously attack her? They probably did. So, as a white woman she was likely determined to be rich and vulnerable (given the time of night, the fact that she was alone, etc.). This is no reason to perpetuate a crime on someone. But it may help to illuminate why there is a different kind of outrage resulting from the Trayvon Martin case.

So let's look at that situation. Trayvon was a young man, minding his own business - YES, like Eve was. BUT, because he was BLACK - and pretty much for this reason alone (obviously how he was dressed has been a topic of interest as well), George Zimmerman assumed that he was UP TO NO GOOD. That he was doing something nefarious or had some malicious reason for being where he was when he was there. Simply because he was black. 

This is the difference between Eve and Trayvon. They both were senselessly and violently murdered, and many people are mourning their loss from the world. But, people are angered and outraged that the reason Trayvon was spotted, chased and killed was simply because he was black - and thus a suspicious person.

I know that you're saying that the police response, the follow-up, and the Florida law are not part of your argument, but I think you're misguided here. The fact that the police were so slow to even investigate the situation (which still hasn't been intiated), and the justice system has been so slow to bring charges against Zimmerman further illustrate the fact above - that STILL in this country, black people (and truly SO many different people of color of different races) are ASSUMED to be at fault in cases of interracial violence. They are the subjects of disproportionate executions of justice. And they are diminished in importance when they are the victims of crime. (I find this akin to the old assumption that when a man beat his wife, she must have done something to provoke him. It was then much harder for her to get judicial intervention. In the same way, black people are often seen as less likely to be honest victims of crime from other races).
The fact that so many elements of the Trayvon Martin case have only helped to support these facts about our country's racial climate is THE reason why we are seeing such outrage. 

I agree with you that the Eve Carson case should have had more national coverage - I would hope that it would give us an opportunity, as a country, to talk about crime and violence in our cities, and give us a chance to come together in the hope of changing it. The Trayvon Martin case has given us a chance to talk about race in America in the 21st century, and take a hard look at what we can do to ensure that ALL citizens are treated equally in the justice system.

But I hope that sharing my perspective might help you understand the nature of the outrage caused by Trayvon's killing - He was targeted and killed because he was black, and his case remains uninvestigated and unresolved largely for the same reason. And people who have experienced or witnessed this same kind of misalignment of justice are speaking out and saying that it is wrong. 
You are completely right that any kind of racial profiling is wrong and damaging. But what is illustrated in these 2 cases is that the stereotypes that were applied to different racial groups are differently damaging, and their long-term, widespread repercussions lead to much broader miscarrages of justice for certain groups of human beings - even though these 2 young people came to the same tragic end. 
So, for me Trayvon Martin has brought the harmful prevalance of the "Young Black Man" stereotype to the forefront of the national conciousness once again - the assumption that black people are inherently scary and violent, and thus don't deserve the same societal protection and justice - and is challenging our SYSTEMIC application of it.

I hope that what I've said helps you to see this case through a different lense. I appreciate your starting a discussion about it - sometimes, it feels that we are so afraid to talk about race that there is never any chance to put it out in the open, so that we can deal with it together. I firmly believe that the only way we can relieve the racial charge that exists in this country is through discussions like this - the sharing and understanding of each other's perspectives.
So thank you for sharing your thoughts.


1 comment:

  1. Your response is so good, as is Brittani McNeill's. I've heard other people bring up the Eve Carson case as part of this argument, and I haven't been able to articulate exactly why using that example is so wrong. It's interesting and sad to me to hear Eve's tragedy used to make this argument-- I never knew her personally, but from her reputation around Chapel Hill and from what mutual friends have said about her, it seems that she'd find this type of argument wrongheaded, too.

    The original poster just doesn't understand profiling at all. Everyone agrees that the things that killed Eve Carson-- greed, cruelty, disregard for human life-- are terrible. They're also things that can't really be protested in a rally.

    The thing that motivated Trayvon Martin's murder-- the disgraceful, racist notion that there is something inherently dangerous about young black men-- is not only accepted by many people, but also codified in policy. Unfortunately, we'll never be able to prevent all murders from happening. But we can and should work to make people aware of how dangerous and evil the stereotype that led to Trayvon's murder was.

    Arguments like this woman's are so discouraging-- we're finally talking about these issues on a national level and people are still doing their best not to listen.