Sunday, August 4, 2013

Pick Your Wardrobe Wisely: A Lesson in Racial Politics

Rodney King famously said after his beat-down by LA cops 
and the ensuing riots, "Why can't we all just get along?"

Probably not a Sunday School Teacher - One of theproblems we face when choosing our wardrobe.
In the wake of the recent racial unrest over the Florida courtroom drama surround the Trayvon Martin shooting, the political ideologues have fired up their spin machines. Both have come out in support of their own rigid ideologies, of course, but what's been appalling about the whole thing is how little regard is being paid to what we are teaching our kids with all this rhetoric about race.

Like Mr. King's question suggests, it ought to be a simple thing. Let's focus on fixing the problem rather than fanning the fires of hatred based on skin color.  But both sides are doing it. It would be nice if we could get everybody to back off the angry rhetoric and be nice to one another. Unfortunately, it's hard to do that when people see only what they want to see! A million black mothers see in Trayvon Martin their 12 year old child's face. Their real child may be 38 years old and a steel worker, but to his mama he will always be that little innocent boy going to the store for some candy and a Coke.

But a bag of Skittles can be a candy treat or a key ingredient in a vicious street drug called "purple drank" that makes you paranoid and aggressive if you add Arizona Watermelon Drink and a bit of cough syrup.

On the other side, millions of non-blacks see the carnage in places like Detroit, Chicago and L.A. and the gangs of young men in hoodies and sagging pants committing violent crimes and react with fear and with sympathy for George Zimmerman. Many wonder if they should get that conceal and carry permit for themselves.

It's hard to forgive and forget when you are so angry you see only what you want to see and only from your own perspective. It's true, when young black men protest that not everyone who dresses like a thug is a thug. This is no less true than the idea that everyone who dresses and talks like a preacher is a man of God. Evil people like Jim Jones and David Koresh dressed themselves up like preachers in order to make people think they were men of God and then stole from them, raped them, abused them and even got them all killed.

The message of the recent Martin/Zimmerman tragedy should be one that speaks to self-preservation. It's a message I used to try to get across to the kids I worked with. If you don't want people to think you are dangerous, don't dress like a dangerous person, don't act like a dangerous person and don't take substances that make you paranoid and aggressive.  If you do, then you frighten people and frightened people can be far more dangerous than you are, as that poor boy found out. Someone should have done a better job of teaching lesson to Trayvon.

But isn't this a free country?
  Shouldn't I be able to dress like a thug if I want to and shouldn't people not assume that I am a thug no matter how I dress?

Well, let's look at that idea a bit.
  I, for instance, have every right to put on a KKK hood and walk down the street,  But does it follow, using the reasoning above, that black people should not assume that I am actually a member of the KKK even though I'm wearing a Klan hoodie?  And furthermore, do I have the right to be surprised if black people become angry and feel threatened if I confront them wearing that kind of outfit? 

Of course not. There are thugs and there are thugs.  The Klan guys are thugs as much as any Italian, black, Russian or Hispanic gang member.  Thugs wear outfits that make them look like thugs so people will fear them. There really isn't any good reason to dress like a thug. If there were a war going on and I wasn't a soldier, I certainly would not put on a soldier uniform and go out on the battlefield - not if I expected to live. It wouldn't matter that I wasn't "really" an enemy soldier. It would only matter that I looked like one.

If we lived in a kinder gentler world we could all dress like we wanted to and no one would think any the worse of us.
But we live in a world full of real threats to our lives and safety.  In a world where people who dress like thugs often attack you, shoot you or rob you, we are conditioned to treat such people as a threat. It would have taken a huge leap of faith for Mr. Zimmerman to assume Trayvon wasn't going to kill him when the young man was on top of him administering what his girlfriend called a well-deserved "whoop a@#$%" and beating his head against the sidewalk. It's probably a bit more than anyone of any race has a right to expect.

Alright, I get it. Black people have a lot of anger over how they've been treated by white people. But is fanning that anger in our communities, and particularly in front of impressionable children, any way to end the hatred? And if you fan the anger of blacks against whites and say things like, "Sure Zimmerman is half Hispanic, but it was his whiteness that made him murder that boy," are you not inviting a violent reaction from the white community? Not everyone in the white community is over racism yet and most of us, even those who do find racism reprehensible, aren't prepared to submit to, as Martin's girlfriend, Rachel Jeantel, so colorfully put it, the "whoop a@#$%" we deserve.

If we grownups in the community are not careful there is going to be blood in our streets and I will grieve just as much over the blood of black and Hispanic children caught up in the violence as I will for white children. Jesus, Martin Luther King and Ghandi all taught that the way to respond to racism was to resist nonviolently. If there is still racism in our country and my black brothers and sisters wish to resist it nonviolently, I will once again stand beside them.

I'm afraid though that those with an interest in fomenting violence over race in this country are not trying to end racism at all. I think they are trying to use it as a means to seize political power. I don't think they care who gets killed to feed their ambitions and lust for power. Such people do not serve God, I promise you that, whether they have Reverend, Senator, Congressman or President in front of their names or not.

The moral of the story here? If you don't want to be treated like a dangerous thug, don't dress like one, talk like one or act like one. Let your words be "yes" and "no" without all the name-calling and labeling. Don't be afraid to stand against even your loved ones and closest friends if it is the right thing to do.  It's that simple and a lesson that can be learned by both sides in this conflict.

© 2013 by Tom King

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