The Trayvon Martin shooting has once again afforded all of us another chance to have a discussion about America’s thorniest problem: race. I hope that the opportunity doesn’t go like so many of the others that have previously come to pass: disappearing without any real meaningful dialogue. What I have heard so far is about what I would expect. Blacks lamenting the shooting and reminding each other what we need to tell to our young males about what may happen in certain situations and how to prepare and act in those instances. The protests and outrage, given what has been heard in the media about the case, are what you would expect also. There has also been an opposite reaction to these protests from some white people, who just wish that blacks would stop blaming them for everything and to stop playing the race card.
As for the Martin case, I will wait for the facts to come out. If the facts prove that George Zimmerman acted inappropriately, then he should be punished to the fullest extent of the law. No ifs, buts or maybes. But if there is anything that suggests that Zimmerman was within his rights to do what he did, then I don’t see how any protest and outrage will change things. But my main concern is that a certain segment of society believes that all blacks do is blame Whitey and reach for the race card at every possible instance. I can assure you, as a black person, as a person of color, that is simply not the case.
It may seem that way if you sit and watch what the media tells you in cases similar to Martin’s. But what I want people to know, and what some people seem to forget, is that racism still exists. It may not be seen where you live; it may not be as overt as it was back in the 1960’s when Martin Luther King, Malcolm X and others fought for the rights of citizens, or even further back when segregation and Jim Crow were the rule. But oh yes, it is still here. What I’d like to ask some of these folks is this: have you ever been called a nigger? have you ever had something denied to you because of the color of your skin? have you ever been eyed suspiciously in a store or public place simply by the color of the skin and the way you were dressed? If you haven’t had these experiences, then you can’t really say that you understand what it’s like for certain people of color. I can’t say that it happens to me everyday, but these types of things have happened to me before, and may again.
Now I will be the first to admit that not everything that happens is about race. Often times, people use the race angle to get attention, or to inflame passions and elevate situations. Most sensible people of color can tell the difference. And we often tire of people saying we all use the race card when there is an injustice being done to people of color. But when the shoe fits, we should be allowed to call a spade a spade, and say what something is when it is, without being chastised for “always playing the race card” or making a situation about race. Sometimes it be that way.
And sadly, it will continue to be that way. Racism exists. And it is going to exist in my lifetime, and in my children’s lifetime. And probably even in their children’s and grandchildren’s lifetimes too. But when we as a society are ready to really listen to each other about race and issues of race, and there isn’t a day when people of color have to suffer the indignities they often have to, simply because of the color of their skin, then there will always be a deck of cards at hand with the race card featured prominently in it. But if we can find a way to bridge the divide on race, and remember that there is more that unites us than divides us, and that we are more alike than we are different-then maybe there will come a day when we can throw out the race card.
But I don’t see that day coming any time soon.