Friday, April 06, 2012

You've Got to Live It to Understand It

I've been playing around on the net, reading new journals and bookmarking the ones I think I might like to dip into on a more detailed level. I find myself immediately leaving a site that tries to claim that the Trayvon Martin case in Florida has valid points for both the groups: those white folks that claim there may actually be a valid reason (other than racism) why Zimmerman shot the kid and was never arrested.

African Americans understand the unfortunate, unhappy American truth in this crime in a way that no white person ever can. My husband physically snorts whenever NPR comes on during the morning drive to school, when they try to offer an opinion other than the murder of Trayvon Martin was a racially motivated crime, that there may still be two sides to this sad story.

Black mothers understand. Black fathers are terrified of it. Black youth live it daily.

If you are white you may not want to believe it - - but African Americans are still the target of the police and the power structure in America. Daily. Hourly. Every minute of their lives.

You won't understand it on a gut level unless your skin is black. Then you know on every level what it really is like to have a target on your back. You see the averted eyes, the fear on faces, the body language that shies away from a young black man dressed in baggy pants, the staring with the quick turn of the head, the security guard who trails after you in the store, the clerk who won't wait on you, the inferior school you attend, the promotion you can't get on the job (especially if you're an African American woman), and the white person who will adamantly insist they aren't racist because some "of my best friends are black." And you hear it in the silence by those "good white folks" who don't speak up and fight against this type of racism when they see it happening all around them.

I can't claim to truly understand how bad it is. I do know I've lived some of it. I know that I can speed down Ward Parkway, one of our major thoroughfares in town, with expired license plates on an old, beat up car and the cop on the corner ignores that I'm going 10 miles over the speed limit and my plates were due to be renewed last year (this actually happened to me and I breathed a huge sigh of relief). If Hubby is driving we both know that if he's going even slightly over the speed limit, with completely legal plates and all his papers in order, he's going to be stopped. This is true in town and on the highway. In Texas we often have me drive the stretch from Dallas to Houston because I can get away going the regulation speed of 90 (everybody DOES it! when the speed limit is really 70). Hubby stays under 70 to make sure he's not targeted -- and even the trucks will pass him by.

As we've aged, Hubby's no longer searched when he's stopped -- but he used to be. I know he's been asked to prove he owns the car -- even when he wasn't speeding or doing anything illegal. All black men know bout DWB -- Driving While Black -- and that it happens in every major city. Statistics prove that minority drivers are stopped in far greater numbers than white drivers.

I've been in fancy department stores where the clerks have ignored Hubby. In St. Louis one day, we were looking for a sport's jacket for him in a downtown store and though there were three clerks on the floor doing nothing, no one would help us. Hubby finally took to taking coats off the rack, trying them on, and then dropping them on the floor. This brought the security guards to us. Hubby explained and security told us we had to leave the store. Furious, I said I wanted to see a manager and it was only then, when my white middle class voice spoke up, that we received an apology and the manager came and did wait on us. Of course, we refused to purchase anything.

I have been in numerous situations, especially when I worked in the construction industry and for the #3 telephone company, where racist comments were made to me by white people -- because my skin was white, these folks just believed I would relate to their bigotry and would innately agree with them. My own mother never got over her racial prejudice against my own husband.

When I first started teaching again, in the school that I have called wonderful, I took Hubby to a Christmas party at the home of my small learning community's coordinator, and the first thing Hubby said on the way home was: "Lordy, what a bunch of bigots!" The only minority member of the community had elected NOT to attend the party, of course. Hubby watched the way we were viewed as a couple and he, as an individual, and understood quickly that this group of mostly white males felt uncomfortable around him. Of course, nothing ugly was said -- it was body language and looks that conveyed a message of being "uncomfortable" with Hubby in the room.

If you're one of those folks who think Zimmerman may have been threatened by Trayvon, you have a right to your opinion. I would only ask that you think about a law that allowed him to shoot a kid carrying only Skittles and iced tea without any consequences at all. Ask yourself, "Would Trayvon have been allowed to shoot Zimmerman if he had only iced tea and a cell phone in his hands? Would he have walked away with no arrest?" If you say, "Well, probably not" -- then you know you are looking at crime impacted by the race of the teenager. And that in itself should make you furious.


Margaret said...

It's so depressing that we are STILL dealing with this, when we shouldn't be. I am so sorry for Hubby and for all the others who have suffered. But I'm especially angry when innocent people die because of the color of their skin.

Pat Kolb said...

Melissa, I did not know just how bad this still was until I moved to Mississippi. The open racist comments are something that shocked me. I will never ever get used to this $%^& and I don't want to.