An uncomfortable truth is hidden under the national discussion about music being played too loud, and the hoodies that criminals wear. Racism is not going anywhere.
I feel this observation needs to be made especially in light of the recent Academy Award’s presented to Lupita Nyong’o and John Ridley. I don’t wish to minimize their achievements, just to point out that they will eventually be used by someone as an example of our post-racial society.
I’ve written this particular post several times since mid-February when the trial of Jordan Davis’s killer was in the news. I filed rather than published because I’m always weighing the relative merits of my opinions about racial justice issues against the fact that I am white, female, suburban and part of the “chattering class”, which may actually be a generous stretch for this blog.
I hesitated because as good as it feels to vent, or in this case Rant, self-righteousness and hyperbole are rarely positives. I care too much about these issues to be flip or off the cuff.
It is the impact of these “Stand Your Ground” self-defense cases that is haunting my thinking at the moment. Specifically the no duty to retreat provision.
The institutional racism of our judicial system, or any kind of systemic oppression, is a hard sell when people are not willing to acknowledge their own biases. So anyone talking about how the killings of Jordan Davis and Trayvon Martin are racially motivated is derailed, shouted down and marginalized.
The national discussion of the Stand Your Ground laws invariably skirts racism by focusing on an individuals right to protect themselves against a perceived threat. Self-defense is at the core. Rarely is the fact established that the act of being a black male in our culture IS automatically a perceived threat.
If you are afraid for your safety, and there is no need to de-escalate, a “reasonable person” would be justified in protecting themselves. Media generally presents black men as dangerous, so a “reasonable person” can be expected to be afraid of black men. Except that second sentence is never stated.
No duty to retreat is the linchpin to this specific kind of institutional racism. Subjective perceptions of threat trump evidence and facts. My feelings about your potential to hurt me justifies necessary force. It’s quite disheartening.
I have heard some folks saying that the celebrating of 12 Years a Slave by the Academy shows that we as a culture are ready to talk about race and slavery in an honest way. I’m not holding my breath, but maybe its true.
If we are ready to talk about race in the US, let’s start the conversation by believing that racism still exists, there is no such thing as the race card, and actions count more than intentions. My recommended moderators for this national conversation:
- Jay Smooth (watch this video blog) or his TedTalk
- Ta-Nehisi Coates (read him here)
- bell hooks (buy her new book asap)
Onward and upward.