The ugliness of racism has been brought back into the spotlight with the murder of seventeen year old Trayvon Martin by self appointed, wannabe sheriff George Zimmerman and the botched, seven hour and thirty minute investigation, give or take about five minutes, by the Sanford police and other Florida authorities who failed to give the crime its due consideration. Initially, the police claimed there was no evidence to contradict Zimmerman’s claim that he murdered the black teenager in self defense. The police bought the story and sent the shooter home with the gun he used to kill Trayvon in hand. It wasn’t until the people protested did the higher ups in Florida realized that a high profile travesty of justice was happening in their backyard and reopened the investigation and Zimmerman was finally charged with a crime and held in police custody.
The protest that brought Zimmerman to justice was led primarily by people in the black community. People all around the world gave their support. But the mass of thirty thousand people that descended onto Sanford, Florida was disproportionately black, outraged over another example of white on black crime compounded by a police department with a history of contributing to racial tension that appeared reluctant to take the murder of an unarmed black teenager seriously. President Barack Obama was asked his opinion of the Trayvon Martin case. Along with an expression of sympathy to Trayvon’s family, Mr. Obama said that if he had a son he would look like Trayvon.
Mr. Obama’s sentiment only added fuel to the fire people used to justify the shooting and subsequent lack of an investigation of the boy’s murder. People already dismissed Trayvon as unworthy of justice simply because he was black, kind of like Zimmerman denied Trayvon the right to walk down the street without being harassed because he was black. But when Mr. Obama made his statement saying that he could identify with Trayvon, some people took their racial animosity to the stratosphere. It was wrong for Mr. Obama to insert race into a situation that had race written all over it. Newt Gingrich went so far as to interpret Mr. Obama’s statement as an endorsement that it would have been acceptable of Zimmerman had murdered a white kid. Only a race baiter would attempt such a colossal and irrational leap of logic and few people outside the seriously ravenous hatemonger took Mr. Gingrich seriously. Nevertheless, the fact that race was playing a part in this whole ugly ordeal could not be ignored.
The news was filled about how once again we should be opening up a nationwide dialog about race. Did race play a part in the murder of Trayvon? Did race play a part in the initial lack of an investigation by the Sanford police? How did race factor in the response by the black community? What role did race play in the response by so many people who were saying that black people were rushing to judgment? What role did race play in America’s history of racial intolerance? You get the point.
Many television news programs asked the question is it time for America to have an honest talk about race. I saw it on many of the programs on MSNBC including Morning Joe, Up with Chris Hayes, Now featuring Alex Wagner, Political Nation with Al Sharpton, and quite a few others. Many people were talking about whether or not the shooting of Trayvon was an opportunity to talk about race. But few of these shows took the opportunity to actually talk about race.
Instead of asking a question if now is a good time or talking about racism from a perspective that only adds ambiguity and confusion to the issue in order to spare somebody’s feelings, why can’t we have an honest discussion about America’s racial disparity. How is it possible that even in twenty first century America an unarmed black teenager can be murdered by a man who, if rumors of his compulsion to call the police at the site of an unknown black person holds true, obviously has a problem with black people and can walk away from the scene of his crime with the murder weapon? How does that not bring to mind the history of pre civil rights era of a place like Mississippi or Alabama when racism was so rampant? Why don’t we talk about the fact that something like half of the white population were tired of hearing about the Trayvon case just weeks after the boy was shot and Zimmerman remained free while more than eighty percent of the black community felt otherwise?
If we are going to ever have a conversation about racism then let’s have a conversation about racism. Talking about why we should talk about racism just doesn’t cut it. That ranks right up there with talking about arresting somebody who killed an unarmed teenager and yet the police told him to have a good day as he walked away. People need to want that conversation about race instead of pretending that racism is just a ghost story from our unenlightened past. It’s nothing to fear. And the longer we put it off the longer it will take for America to heal the wounds that we have suffered all in the name of racism and the continued subjugation of people of color.