7.15.2013

to kill a mockingbird

Back in my late twenties I entered into a five year relationship with an African American man named Jim. Despite the fact that he was smart, handsome, charming and funny, the relationship had its problems, the least of which was race. But what I learned during those five years has stayed with me, and I’ve used those lessons to try to improve myself, and the world, in whatever small ways I can.

What I learned was that Jim, like the rest of us, had been taught—wrongly—by society to fear black men. I learned that most black men—innocent ones—get stopped on the street, pulled over, harassed and bullied by white men in uniform for nothing other than minding their own business. I see vignettes of these injustices and discrimination frequently: the young black man in front of me about to board the airplane who is the only person asked to check his bag; the sharp dressed black man in the department store who is mistaken for the clerk; the African American restaurant guest who is purposefully neglected by the staff; the racist, bigoted Facebook posts about black men and prison garb.

Saturday’s verdict in the George Zimmerman case—an acquittal handed down by a mostly white jury—reminded me again of the gross injustices that occur in this country from small scale to large, reminded me that we might be better off if we lived in mixed communities rather than gated ones, reminded me of the countless times I’ve heard white people complain that they shouldn’t have to apologize for slavery, and how I’ve told them that they’re missing the point, that what society must put right is the continued oppression of black people.

Years ago, I remember my mother remarking on a dapper, tall black man stepping out of a luxury car. Her take was that he must’ve been a professional basketball player. “Why not a lawyer or a doctor or a banker, Mom?” and she seethed and spat angry words at me for what she felt was my judgment of her. Her ignorance and subsequent reaction to my query made me ill. And It wasn’t that long ago that I heard someone close to me use the N-word. I chastised her, because I believe people must be held accountable for their words as well as their actions, lest those insulting words spin out of control into hateful ideals and paradigms, into contempt, into vicious conduct fueled by that hate.

While unravelling in the shower, my mind poured over images of Trayvon Martin, the unarmed youth carrying skittles and iced tea who was gunned down by what I see as an over-zealous wannabe cop with a violent criminal past. Then I thought of the teens and young men with autism and Down syndrome who have died at the hands of security officers who used excessive force because of their ignorance, because of their fear, perhaps because of their loathing. I thought about the gawks and stares—and occasional rude remarks—that Calvin and I get every time we go out in public, which sometimes reek of disgust, even glowering in the eyes of some children—yes, children whose behavior is most obviously and purposefully ignored by their parents.

Then I reeled thinking of the Central Park Five, of Rodney King, of Martin Luther King Jr., of Oscar Grant gunned down at point blank range by a Bay Area Rapid Transit officer in the Oakland Fruitvale station, of the countless stories of African American men, women and children who have died—unjustifiably—at the end of a white man’s gun, in a burned-out church, at the end of a noose. I thought of the millions of black men incarcerated for years in jail cells or on death row, no doubt many innocent of their charges or serving weighty sentences for ridiculously non-violent crimes.

And then finally I am reminded of Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird, wherein a crippled black man, Tom Robinson, is convicted by an all white jury of a crime he didn’t commit against a white girl who was being abused by her father. I came across this passage of young Jem speaking to his father, Atticus Finch, who had defended Tom in court:

"Atticus—" said Jem bleakly.
He turned in the doorway. "What, son?"
"How could they do it, how could they?"
"I don't know, but they did it. They've done it before and they did it tonight and they'll do it again and when they do it—seems that only children weep. Good night."


I’m weeping, Trayvon, I’m weeping, and so too would Calvin be if only he could know.

Trayvon Benjamin Martin, February 5, 1995 – February 26, 2012

12 comments:

  1. Trayvon was a thug going down a path in life of criminal choices and messed with the wrong "white cracker" as he put it and paid the ultimate price.

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    1. This comment has been removed by the author.

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    2. http://www.counterpunch.org/2013/07/15/the-us-v-trayvon-martin/

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    3. with all due respect, "anonymous," zimmerman was the thug.

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    4. http://www.calvinsstory.com/2013/07/angels-and-thugs.html

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    5. anonymous, you were so wrong. here is another: http://www.nytimes.com/2015/01/11/us/zimmerman-is-charged-with-assault-in-florida.html?emc=edit_th_20150111&nl=todaysheadlines&nlid=52609523

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  2. Excellent writing Christy. Trayvon was being followed by an idiot with a gun who judged a young man by the color of his skin, wearing a hood over his head and the fact that teenagers are considered "thugs". If you are continually persecuted by those who judge and follow you would you not defend yourself

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  3. Anonymous, I believe Zimmerman was the one with the checkered criminal past. The fact that you made this comment anonymously makes me think that you are perhaps not willing to stand by your convictions and need to hide behind your inflammatory words that really don't add to the discussion. I always appreciate dissent, but I suggest you do so more persuasively -- unless you just want to stir the pot and slink away.

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  4. we know that there is a serious problem with the minds of some in society when an innocent black teenager with no criminal background is stalked and killed by a man with a violent criminal record, and the teen is seen as the thug.

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  5. Beautifully Written. God Bless you and Calvin.

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  6. as a follow-up: http://www.calvinsstory.com/2013/07/angels-and-thugs.html

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  7. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

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