The Trayvon Martin Tragedy: Racism I Have(n’t) Experienced

By | April 2, 2012 | 7 Comments

Recently Congresswoman Frederica Wilson (Dem., Florida) addressed the House of Representatives on the killing of Trayvon Martin. She claimed that is a common experience for people to get out of an elevator when a black enters − presumably whites, and not at their floor. She claimed that it is common for drivers to lock their car doors if a black approaches − presumably white drivers. She claimed that it is common for women to clutch their purses when a black approaches − presumably white women.
That is, she claimed that African Americans, including boys and girls, suffer from racism daily. Is this objectively true? Or is it true only in the sense that young African Americans are taught by their “leaders” to see racism daily? In an attempt to answer this question, I reviewed some occurrences in my own life.
Get off the sidewalk.
Some time ago, I was walking in an upscale residential area. Down the sidewalk came a middle-aged woman, “exercise walking” while swinging what looked like a two-foot length of broomstick. Apparently it was some sort of exercise aid.
But the woman showed no sign of altering her gyrations as she approached, so I stepped off the sidewalk to avoid getting hit. I thought of pointing out that billy clubs are illegal here. But I decided that she would either ignore me or call me a vile name.
So I just got off the sidewalk, as if I were a black in Mississippi in 1940. Oh, I almost forgot − I am white, as was the woman. So it was just an example of narcissism combined with the self-righteousness of doing something “healthful.”
The rude clerk.
I ordered stationery from an office supply store. When my order was ready, I drove to the store. The cashier directed me to a counter. Behind it was a clerk who was busy with paperwork. He looked up at me, then went back to his papers. I coughed from time to time, then said, “Excuse me,” with no effect.
I waited five minutes by my watch, went back to the cashier, and said in a loud voice, “If I can’t get the stationery, I want my money back.” She directed me back to the counter. I waited for another two minutes, then began to complain obnoxiously. The clerk looked up with annoyance, asked my name, reached under the counter within a few feet of where I was standing, handed me my stationery without apology, and turned his back.
This was a clear example of racism. Oh, I almost forgot − I’m white and the clerk was black. So it was just an example of rudeness and bad service. Of course, he might have thought that my irritation was an example of my racism.
The rotten food.
One evening my wife and I went to a seafood restaurant. When my wife picked up a lettuce leaf with her fork, a large nest of wiggling worms was revealed. We called over the waiter, which took some time, and showed him the worms. We asked for the manager. He had not arrived after five minutes, despite my loud complaints, so we left.
This was a disgusting example of racism. Oh, I almost forgot − both of us and the waiter were white. So it was just bad service and a filthy kitchen. Later the restaurant closed.
Driving while white.
My car was in the shop, and I was driving a rental car to work. I was pulled over by a police officer. I politely asked what I did wrong, and he replied, “Your tags are expired.” I explained it was a rental car, showed him the papers, and laughingly remarked, “Do you suppose Budget Rent-a-Car can’t afford to renew their registrations?” The officer smiled in response, then let me go with a reminder to tell the company. The incident lasted a short time and was pleasant.
On the way home, I was pulled over by another officer. But this time I was tired and annoyed. Before the officer spoke, I said, “I know, the tags are expired, it’s a rental car,” and stuck the papers out the window. The officer responded to my annoyance with his own. He wrote me a ticket requiring me, not the rental company, to renew the registration.
Even more annoyed, I asked how I could register a car I didn’t own. The officer replied with a lengthy lecture on my responsibilities as a car renter − which made no sense, but which did serve to delay me even more. As a result of my impatience and rudeness, the incident lasted a long time and was unpleasant. Later the rental company took care of the ticket, but if they hadn’t, an arrest warrant would have been issued for me.
Clearly, this is another example of police harassment of minorities. Oh, I almost forgot − both of the officers and I were white. So it was just an example of my disrespect being returned.
The trigger-happy cop.
The house next door was being remodeled. Trucks frequently blocked our driveway. I complained without effect. One day I was picking up nails from my driveway, a frequent occurrence. The contractor was there, so I said, “How would you like it if I put nails in front of your car?”
The contractor replied angrily, “Keep away from my car or I’ll kill you!” On the chance that the contractor was serious or on a controlled substance, I called the police. Eventually a police car arrived, and a female officer got out. I explained the situation as calmly as I could, which may not have been very calmly.
Then I did something stupid. I wanted to identify myself as the homeowner, so without warning I reached into my pocket for my wallet. Immediately, the officer took a small step back with her right foot, brought her left hand in front of her, and moved her right hand near her pistol. I knew enough about guns to recognize that she was preparing to assume the Weaver stance and draw her weapon.
I apologized for my hasty action. The officer completed her report and drove away. She did not mention what she had prepared to do, much less apologize.
Clearly, this is an example of police racism and readiness to use lethal force when it isn’t necessary. Oh, I almost forgot − the officer and I were both white. Not only that, but I have gray hair and wear glasses. So it was just an example of a potentially threatening move being reacted to by someone who puts her life on the line daily to protect us. It was an example of my own lack of situational awareness.
Real racism.
Only a fool would deny that racism exists in America, though it is probably the least racist of nations. Police brutality exists as well. But much of what is called racism is in the eye of the beholder. If we look for trouble, we are likely to find it. And much of our trouble is caused – or at least aggravated – by our own lack of concern for others or for the situation.
Sometimes people force us off the sidewalk just because of selfishness and lack of consideration. Sometimes bad service is just bad service by employees with no interest in the success of the business. Sometimes filthy food is just filthy food. Sometimes rude cops are just responding to our rudeness. Sometimes hyper-vigilant cops are just responding to our potentially threatening moves. There is an abundant supply of real racism in the world. I know – my father’s eldest brother was murdered in the Holocaust. We don’t need to invent more racism by seeing it in the problems of daily life.
The Trayvon Martin tragedy.
Is Congresswoman Wilson correct? Do African Americans, especially young males, meet racism daily? Did Zimmerman racially profile Martin, then pursue and shoot him? If so, Zimmerman should spend many years in prison for second-degree murder. And we should all repent for the racism in our hearts.
On the other hand, is Zimmerman’s version, or what we know of it, correct? Did Martin react to being followed by turning around, confronting Zimmerman, and asking, “Do you have a problem,” then knocking Zimmerman down and bashing his head into the concrete sidewalk? If so, Zimmerman can reasonably claim self-defense. And we can all ask ourselves what was the source of Martin’s anger and suspicion.
Those who teach young African Americans that they will suffer from racism daily must share the blame for inciting anger and suspicion. We can only guess how much inter-racial violence is caused by this anger and suspicion. Equally regrettable, over 90% of blacks who are killed are killed by other blacks. We can only guess how much intra-racial violence is caused by turning this anger inward against their own people. Florid rhetoric may stir up crowds and win elections, but in the end it will ruin lives.
Dr. Stolinsky writes on political and social issues. Contact: You are welcome to publish or post these articles, provided that you cite the author and website.


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