Saturday, July 20, 2013

Racism - A Supreme Failing

I'm going to diverge from the usual comic book, film, and random nerd rant format and discuss a topic which should be explored and reflected upon by every person, especially if they're a citizen of the United States of America. Racism is that topic. It is an irrational, sub-intelligent, inhumane doctrine which separates, divides, and weakens the unity of a species which desperately needs to unite so that it might have a strong chance at a long, fruitful future. It is a cancer which thrives within members of every cultural and racial background, unfortunately, and it has marred the history and reputation of the US since its inception.

I grew up in South Florida with a Southern family. Racism was a part of life in that part of the world when I was a child, and it is still active today. We see evidence of it in the case of the late Trayvon Martin, who was recently dealt the injustice of having his murderer acquitted. He was a black boy who was in the wrong place at the wrong time. It is unfortunate for him that he was in this country and of his race at the time because the existing racism of which I spoke was actively causing a certain man, George Zimmerman, to profile him. Sure, Mr. Martin should probably have taken a different route, but it is not his fault that he was seen as a black person - followed, harassed, and then shot because of what very much seems to be racism.

Let's face it, based on the general outline of the incident (I found such an outline on CNN) it's difficult to read the events surrounding his death as anything other than yet another case of a non-black person following and assigning judgement on a black person because of what they are. Maybe Zimmerman was just responding to someone who shouldn't have been where they were. Perhaps Martin's reaction to Zimmerman was uncalled for. Did it have to lead to a shooting? Should a neighborhood watch member, out on patrol, have been armed? Why did Zimmerman actually choose to shoot? These are questions which will always be asked, and sadly no one will ever know the exact "Whats" and "whys" which occurred, except for the deceased and the acquitted.

I don't use the words "Maybe" and "seems" and speak of what might have happened because I'm a white man. I use them because I wasn't present at the time of the incident. No one can say without a doubt that it was truly racism or it was clearly self-defense. To proclaim such with any surety is foolish and suggestive of a bias which is just as corrupting in this case as racism.

Getting back to racism and looking at it in the context of this recent event, it is an amazing thing that President Barack Obama recently spoke out on the feelings of black men in America, citing his personal experiences. It is unfair to assume the worst of someone because they are of a certain skin color. This goes for religion, philosophies, and lifestyles as well. Prejudice is myopia. You cannot clearly see someone for who they truly are when you attempt to discern them from a place which is inherently prejudiced. The President gave all of us a window into the mind of a minority which has too often felt the sting of a biased, hateful society. We should be grateful that someone as respectable took the time to open up in such a way.

I have been guilty of racism at times in my life. I could excuse those times as part of a condition of having grown up with an old Southern family. I could say that it's just a natural aspect of life. I would be terrifically missing the point and ignoring mine own ignorance. Looking back, I can admit that I have been stupendously stupid and angry in those moments and chose to process them with a base-mind. I was wrong, and I know that I was wrong. Seeing the error of my ways and reflecting upon the troubles of the bigger issue will, I hope, absolve me for my past failings in some way at some point. Also, in writing this, I hope that I will present a case for reparations in society. One small voice crying for necessary change to fix the failings of a system which belongs to all of us. One voice at a time and maybe we will eventually have that change at some wonderful future point.

I wish that all sides and all peoples would acknowledge their racist beliefs. Black, white, Hispanic, Asian, everyone. We as human beings need to leave behind the thinking of our primitive forebears and assemble ourselves without prejudice to build a successful future. I imagine the question of "How?' would be a popular one to those willing to neglect their biases. I wonder if whites and other non-blacks questioned the expectations of blacks in the last week as the Martin case resolved. What can we do to change things, to make blacks feel differently about society? To ask such questions or to consider change for the good of all isn't appeasement or surrender. It's a logical step toward fixing our world.

A wise man once gave me some clarity in regard to racism. His name was Lewis Meriwether. He was a black man and a former city commissioner for Grand Rapids, MI. I had the privilege of meeting him as my Political Science professor during my first year at Grand Rapids Community College. In his class we one day discussed racism and the position of blacks in the nation's history. After class I approached him and foolishly suggested that it would be best to make everyone happy by going out of the way to respond to every issue so that no one could complain. He corrected me and said, specifically in regard to black people, that people deserved to be treated as they want to be treated. In his suggestion of the "Platinum Rule" I believe that I caught his meaning. Fair and equal treatment on an individual-by-individual basis is more effective than an attempt at offering a social panacea which completely ignores the specific needs and feelings of individuals in society.

It is my hope that one day we will put all the petty bickering, bias, prejudice, and needless hatred aside so that we might repair our species and move forward to great, long-lasting success. May we survive our mistakes and never forget the lessons of our past.

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