I hadn’t heard much about the Trayvon Martin case until last weekend, when I was in St Louis, watching the news with my college roommates, and I saw footage of a large crowd of predominantly African-American people, yelling, carrying signs and saying things like “Justice for Trayvon” and “this is a pivotal moment in race relations”. Even without knowing much anything about the case, my first thought was, who are these comments directed toward? Who exactly are they protesting?
Bi-racial white/hispanic people? Middle-aged dudes on neighborhood watch councils? Gun owners? Floridians?
Without a clear right or wrong in this particular incident (the 911 call that was thought to contain racial slurs has since been debunked, and the pictures of cute little Trayvon do not represent his 6-foot-3-inch stature at the time of his death) it seems that people are simply outraged because they can be, and they want to yell about it to make themselves feel better about a tragic death. What are we going to do now? Create a nonprofit for the Protection of Teenaged Youths of Color Walking Alone in a Hoodie when an Overzealous Neighborhood Watch Guy Gets Nervous? Or, if you side with Team Zimmerman, an alliance for the Defense of White/Hispanics Who Have Unexplained Broken Noses and Carry a Gun?
It’s not helpful to “race relations” (whatever that is) to assume that ANYONE, no matter what color they are, is glad this happened. No reasonable person really thinks that there’s a secret council of white hispanics rubbing their hands in glee over this tragic death of a young man.
So what are we hollering about? Why are we arguing about hoodies and Skittles? After giving this some thought, I think I know why.
Because we want stories that prop up our worldview. I was just telling Joey the other day that I’ve never known an actual racist. I’ve heard of them, sure, and had some brief, second or third-person encounters, but I’m unconvinced that racism is the number one issue in America, despite the yelling to the contrary. I think racists are fairly rare, that they can be any color (i.e., not only white people are racist) and that we label hard-to-grasp cases, differences of opinion and big problems as “racist” in order to make it easier to understand and easier to protest. If I’m anti-white people, it’s much easier than being anti-people who shoot other people, sometimes, when not in self-defense, I mean, I guess. It’s why Representative Rush finds it easier to come to the House floor in a hoodie than address the horrifying violence in his own district. It’s why every time tragedy strikes, people clamor for stricter gun laws, without remembering that guns can’t kill without a person behind the trigger.
Justice is complex. As we’ve been discussing in the “should superheroes kill” posts by David and Joey, these problems are much bigger than a yes or no answer. Moral absolutes exist, but living by them is a different story, as fallible people with varying skin colors, motivations and histories.
The biggest point I have is this: Yelling at people doesn’t make peace. Assuming guilt or innocence based on skin color doesn’t make a bad situation better. Protesting, re-tweeting, using someone’s death as a political tool and being “outraged” are not effective for creating change, they only create more division, more anger and more violence. Justice will be served – but not by screaming about this on the streets, to no one in particular.
If you’re interested, here’s a few articles that I found interesting when writing this piece (don’t worry, I did read actual news accounts of the case, but I did think these opinion pieces were worth reading):
What do you think? Are you out protesting right now and need to set me straight?