"It took a while to hit me, but I have a terrible sense of foreboding about this case. Zimmerman, at some point, will either be found guilty of manslaughter, or he'll be found not guilty, or charges dropped, or not even charged. Any outcome other than the conviction could ignite a huge cache of anger among blacks in this country."That is white apprehension talking. This person fears the backlash from blacks more than he fears being in Trayvon's place. I know this because I wrote the quote--that's how I started this post, with my gut sense of foreboding.
I wished that wasn't the first thought that came to mind when I considered the future of this case. But then my thoughts shifted direction: what is it like if you have fear of disrespect or violence all the time, or on a regular basis? A fear that's always there, in your awareness or just below it. This is what it's like to be black in our society.
I suffered from mild prejudice when I was young, but little-to-none in the last 25 years. I've had a quarter century of freedom from prejudice, with very little anxiety about whether I'd be unfairly judged before I even had a chance to do or say something.
Empathy LessonsJust one time did I suffer some of the tension from prejudice. My family and I went to a restaurant in Mystic, Connecticut. We were seated, but no waitress came to our table, and they all avoided our glances. This went on 10 minutes, then another 5 minutes. Then I realized that they weren't going to serve us, but they weren't going to say so to our faces. The staff did see us leave, sheepishly. The sting wasn't erased at the restaurant across the street, though the service was friendly and efficient. For that 15 minutes, and for quite a while afterward, I knew what kind of anxiety prejudice can create--the nearly constant gnawing question whether you're going to have to deal with that shit today, or will it be a good day. If you start relaxing, the zinging pain when it happens again.
Some people seem to have no empathy for someone who has suffered from the prejudice of others. I wish they had to deal with it, so they would know what it feels like. People like Rush Limbaugh are probably never on the receiving end, wondering if he'll be snubbed at the restaurant, or stopped while walking or driving. He's only in the dishing-out business, and business is brisk. Why worry about the saps at the receiving end?
Possible ResponsesAt this point, I want to pivot from a description of the problem to possible solutions. I think we've legislated what we can on racism. It's illegal to discriminate in hiring, promotion, access to public accommodations, education, rentals, and probably other areas I can't remember. I don't want to make it illegal to discriminate in personal actions and personal thoughts because I cherish freedom to say and do what we want so long as we don't violate the freedoms of others. And our freedoms don't include freedom from viewpoints we don't like.
What needs to change isn't our laws, but our personal lives. We need to evolve into a non-biased society as much as possible. This is happening, but at a pace that is set by the individuals in society, not by government. I think this is appropriate for the sphere we are trying to change-- the sphere of personal relationships. Maybe I'm too optimistic about people, but I also don't know a better alternative. But I'm listening if you have suggestions.
Photo credit: massnonprofit.org
Postscript: I started writing this before the Derbyshire explosion. I've read the essay. He has the same smug, self-satisfied manner that William F. Buckley had when he made his pronouncements on how people should behave from his comfortable, insular perch. Like Limbaugh, Buckley and Derbyshire never picture themselves on the receiving end of prejudice or misfortune.