Recently, the Pew Research Center released some interesting polling information regarding race and the Zimmerman trial. In short, there was a significant difference between how white people and black people viewed the event. While 80 percent of blacks thought that Trayvon Martin’s killing brought up concerns about race, 28 percent of whites felt the same way. 60 percent of whites feel that race is “getting more attention than it deserves”. Statistics are what they are, but the ingredients that go into their making make for a serious discussion. How come the wide gap between viewpoints?
Could it be that African Americans like to play the race card? Perhaps white folks are racists? Maybe the liberals are putting blacks down by keeping them on the system with handouts. Then again, maybe conservatives do not care and are just trying to maintain an economic advantage. These all or nothing attitudes and statements are endless.
Jingoism abounds in regards to race. Some claim that President Obama is a race baiter, while others assert that things are just as bad as ever. Conservatives point to a number of blacks who have made it as examples of all you have to do is work hard. Many liberals still throw names like George Wallace and Strom Thurmond around when comparing the actions of some today to the past. Round and round we go. Rush Limbaugh, Ann Coulter, Al Sharpton and others are having a blast.
If we all could step back a bit maybe it would become more apparent that many folks are not really listening to each other. Sometimes there is so much to say – we leave little time to hear.
Most white folks I know do not consider themselves racists. Sure, some fall into that 60 percent I mentioned earlier, but for the most part they do not wish harm on African Americans. In addition, a common lament from some whites is that they didn’t have anything to do with slavery or not letting Blacks drink out of a water fountain. For many, they see great change. They see Obama. They see some successful black people on TV, as co-workers and in positions of power. All too often when black people claim unfairness, or racism, many white people feel they are being blamed. That is when their defenses come up. Nobody wants to be considered a racist or bigot.
Black people, on the other hand, cannot help but refer to 350 years of institutionalized racism. It was not so long ago when they were denied voting privileges. It was not so long ago when George Wallace was the Governor of Alabama (and a Presidential Candidate). It was not so long ago when folks who committed crimes against them skated. Many still feel a sense of mistrust.
Of course, ot all whites are racists. And equally obvious is that not all black people hate white people. At the issue’s core are fear, mistrust and years of stereotypes. These have led to distance and distance often breeds misconception.
The Zimmerman case clearly illustrates differing viewpoints between blacks and whites regarding race. What is more subtle however is how those views impact our courts (often to the detriment of blacks). To some extent we have deluded ourselves into believing that our systems are fair. The court system is controlled by white people. It favors those with money (meeting parole, hiring lawyers). The system, being created by human beings, also carries the prejudices and foibles of the species. Sure our legal system is better than most. With this said, it needs some fine-tuning when it comes to race. In fact, the justice system does what it does fairly well. The problem here is that it is rigged before it starts.
Race matters in subtle ways. It matters because we continue to make it so by not really listening and respecting. When we go to our corners with old beliefs nothing changes. We have to let people own their feelings.
Saying that black people should ‘just get over it’ is ridiculous. Saying that they should not feel pain, marginalized, or leery of the legal system, is not taking into account their experience. For them it is visceral. There can be no denying our nation’s long history of troubled race relations.
Saying white people are racists or do not care is equally unfair. Many do care and make concerted efforts to learn more and also lend a hand. All white people don’t live with ‘silver spoons’. They also cannot undo history. The benefits they have gained are not their fault. Recognizing those benefits and promoting fairness for all, should be a civic goal. We need to look at how our institutions could be used to address this. Before doing so we have to look at ourselves.
Perhaps we can begin by really listening to each other. Along with this comes a validation of feelings and points of view. Many have already formulated answers before hearing the questions. In doing so we are denying soul liberty by forcing people to think like us. In many ways that is the direction racism has gone today. Denying an issue will only make it come out sideways.
The fact that there is a great divide should surprise few of us. Divides can be bridged. Divides can also be explained or traversed. It is up to us if it continues to be something that keeps people apart.