I usually stay out of social and political issues. Probably a wimpy thing to do, but in most areas of my life, I avoid conflict like the plague. But, I have too many thoughts on my mind about the George Zimmerman verdict and especially about comments I’m seeing all around social media.
I’d like to begin by distinguishing between predjudice vs. racism. In my post titled Prejudice vs. Racism, I defined each word:
1. an unfavorable opinion or feeling formed beforehand or without knowledge, thought, or reason.
rac•ism [rey-siz-uh m]–noun
1. a belief or doctrine that inherent differences among the various human races determine cultural or individual achievement, usually involving the idea that one’s own race is superior and has the right to rule others.
All of us have prejudices, whether it’s political, racial, religious–unfortunately, the list could go on and on. We can’t help initial feelings that are based on what we’ve experienced. But we can help how we act on those prejudices.
According to the definitions above, a prejudice–though wrong–does not constitute racism.
But, once again, I’m hearing the word “racist” thrown around by many. And once again, I’m going to repeat what I said in my previous blog post:
For us to continue to cry “racist” is to water down the heinous nature of real racism.
There is no doubt in my mind that George Zimmerman showed prejudice when he made the decision to follow Trayvon Martin that night, but was it against a young kid in a hoody who was in a place Zimmerman believed he shouldn’t be? Or was it against a young black kid? With all that is thrown at us on the Internet, I admit to not always knowing what to believe. But, I’ve heard from various sources that Zimmerman, previous to that awful night, tutored black kids. If true, is this the act of someone who is racist?
I am not defending George Zimmerman. In fact, I was disappointed with the verdict. Whether or not Zimmerman went after Trayvon Martin because he was black, none of us will ever know. But, I believe he over-reacted. In the recording, I believe it was Trayvon screaming and he was defending himself. I don’t believe he spontaneously attacked George Zimmerman.
We are lucky to live in this age of social media, when we can share our opinions with hundreds, thousands, even millions of people. But, we should be cautious with that kind of power and use it to promote understanding, rather than to incite anger and hatred.
This verdict can be used to take us a step forward or a step backward. If we take a step backward, it won’t be the jury’s fault. It won’t even be George Zimmerman’s fault. Which direction we as a society go from here is up to each one of us.
Today, President Obama issued a statement on the verdict:
“The death of Trayvon Martin was a tragedy. Not just for his family, or for any one community, but for America. I know this case has elicited strong passions. And in the wake of the verdict, I know those passions may be running even higher. But we are a nation of laws, and a jury has spoken. I now ask every American to respect the call for calm reflection from two parents who lost their young son. And as we do, we should ask ourselves if we’re doing all we can to widen the circle of compassion and understanding in our own communities. We should ask ourselves if we’re doing all we can to stem the tide of gun violence that claims too many lives across this country on a daily basis. We should ask ourselves, as individuals and as a society, how we can prevent future tragedies like this. As citizens, that’s a job for all of us. That’s the way to honor Trayvon Martin.”
I hope each of us will do what we can to “widen the circle of compassion and understanding” inside, but perhaps even more important, OUTSIDE of our communities.