After the verdict in the Trayvon Martin case when his killer George Zimmerman was set free, I witnessed my online and social media world split into two.
All of my friends of color, black, Hispanic and Asian, including those who were parents, expressed on their status updates and shares a lot of rage, frustration and fear for their own kids because they could empathize with Martin’s parents. They didn’t automatically accept Zimmerman’s account of what went down either.
Meanwhile, almost all of my white friends on all of my social media accounts (and I have plenty) were “unbothered,” blissfully sharing photos of their getaway weekends, outfits planned for parties and cat jokes. It was as if the volatile and tense moments leading up to the verdict and the verdict itself didn’t matter, in their lives anyway.
Also around that same time, Glee actor Cory Montieth ended his own life via a drug overdose, a victim of years of addiction. I then watched as mournful tributes and sadness from those same parents flood my news feed and marveled at how split the world and America really is along racial lines when it comes to empathy over the death of people not from their respective, race.
This round, when I learned yesterday that Ferguson, Missouri teen Michael Brown‘s killer, police officer Darren Wilson, was not indicted for the death, I expected the same division.
However, I was pleasantly surprised to see a few Caucasian friends elevate the case on their social media accounts and one, particular influential one, let her immense followers and friends know that something isn’t quite right here. Others made bold stances to throw out their toy air rifles, perhaps in solidarity or concern and consideration of cases like a recent one in Cleveland, Ohio where a 12-year old kid playing with one at a playground was shot and killed by an officer who thought it was real.
The criminal justice system in America appears to over-police and over-enforces laws on black and Hispanic and under-police or at least serve to protect well-to-do and majority people from the intrusion into their lives by “undesirables” or those who “don’t belong”.
It also routinely grants the benefit of the doubt, accepts the accounts of, and under-enforce the laws when the victim is a black youth at the hands of a man sworn to serve and protect.
To change it up so that status quo doesn’t reign and “Justice” doesn’t permanently morph into “just is’,’ as in that’s “just how it is,” we need more fairness, equity and parity.
We can never accomplish this until the unaffected or those who benefit from the system are outraged too.
They also can’t be so willing to blame the victim, assassinate his character or accept all uncorroborated testimony suggesting the victim deserved his or her fate or did something to invoke being shot and killed, for example.
Also, I think of a passage from writer Calvin Hennick
, “7 Things I can Do that My Black Son Can’t”
which addresses what he learned about privilege from being in an interracial relationship which produced a bi-racial son.
Number 6 was ” I Can Complain About Racism”
When I point out that black people are incarcerated at alarming rates, or largely forced to send their children to underperforming schools, or face systemic discrimination when searching for jobs and housing, no one accuses me of “playing the race card.”
So true. This why, perhaps, words of support from those unaffected hold more weight than words from those expected to be in support.
Racking my brain to find some way to explain it so more are empathetic, I thought of analogy to present to a young mother of 3 sons who I recently had a long Twitter exchange with who asked why do Blacks protest and complain too much when it has nothing to do with them specifically.
I wanted to, but ultimately didn’t, hit her back with a school analogy so she could understand:
Imagine you have a talkative but otherwise good child who gets disciplined often in the classroom for talking too much, to the point as soon as she walks into the classroom or opens her mouth, she is presumed to be prepped to disrupt the class with her talking and gets sent to detention.
Eventually, she is thrown out of school, altogether for being too talkative. As a parent, you take your case to the School Board. You gladly welcome parents of other talkative kids unjustly and routinely disciplined who have expressed similar frustration with the school’s disciplinary procedures and anti-talkative kid bias. As they speak up on your behalf at the school board meeting, or to send in letters of support, you would never think to say they were complaining too much or didn’t deserve answers for the discriminatory policy against kids like your own.
If you could relate to that scenario re-read it again but replace the words “loquacious” or “talkative” with “black” and “talk” with “being black.”
The exercise could have helped her “get it” finally, as to why these contentious cases imbue people to rally around victims. Ultimately, it is because they can empathize and/or relate.
What do you think? Are we divided based on our empathy to the victims of death, irrespective of how it comes?
Or our cultural biases slanted so we care about some deaths than others or pick sides based on the side which we think we could relate to more?