A Provocative QuestionPosted March 25th, 2012 by Thomas Norman DeWolf
Like so many other people throughout America and beyond, I share the grief of Trayvon Martin’s parents. I have no words to express how heavy my heart is in mourning such a vital, well-loved young man whose life was cut so short… for no logical reason I can fathom.
Like President Obama said: “If I had a son, he’d look like Trayvon.” Obviously, Newt Gingrich doesn’t comprehend the true gravity of that statement. He responded by saying he found the remark “disgraceful” and “appalling.” Geraldo Rivera cautioned people to change their dress habits, remarkably stopping short of admonishing black people to change the color of our skins.
Well… I comprehend fully the universality of Obama’s comment and deplore the insensitive statements of clueless others.
I have a son — my one and only child — who is now 42 years old and running for the US Congress in New York City. I worried about my baby every day when he was growing up in Chicago, knowing full well the price of being black in America and the dangers that lurked in the “promised land” not so far removed from the South where our ancestors were enslaved. Ironically, my son did not meet his fate until one horrific day in South Africa when he was attacked and almost beaten to death by white policemen. It was an incident that proved that racism is not just extant in America – it is a worldwide phenomenon of racial hierarchy that white people have assiduously constructed to justify heinous proclivities.
I also have two nephews (one a teenager and one in his twenties), and a grandson (who is still a baby). Even though there is no physical resemblance, they all look like Trayvon – young, black, hoodie wearing kids who love skittles and ice tea and walk blissfully unaware (in spite of parental cautions) of what horror might await in the dark of night should one encounter a disturbed man on a mission.
James Craig Anderson was brutally murdered last year in Jackson, Mississippi by a young white man who set out to “kill a nigger” and ran over his helpless victim in a car.
Troy Davis was executed last year in Georgia, declaring his innocence to the end.
There have been countless incidents from then until now….
Every day, more than 10% of the entire black male population of America languishes in prison, a profitable enterprise that supports criminalization of generations and represents an horrific new form of the slavery we thought we had escaped in 1863 with the signing of the Emancipation Proclamation.
Flashback to 1955 when Emmett Till, an innocent 14 year old, was beaten, murdered and dumped into a river with a fan tied around his neck in Money, Mississippi. His murderers bragged about what they had done in a national magazine and went free. George Zimmerman is still walking the streets while the person who threw flour on media maven Kim Kardashian was arrested on the spot.
Against this backdrop, the question I have is…. Why has this particular case inspired so much outrage? This type of egregious behavior has gone on for centuries in so many forms in so many different locations. Why this case? Why now? Is this a defining moment that will turn America around? Or is it just another “knee jerk” reaction where people jump on the bandwagon, post pictures of themselves wearing hoodies, and then retreat back into the comfort of their isolated cocoons of social media?
Is it what Fannie Lou Hamer said in 1964: “I am sick and tired of being sick and tired”? Is it because Rev. Al Sharpton made of point of publicizing this case on the broad platform he now occupies on MSNBC? Is it because George Zimmerman is not 100% white and therefore embodies an exculpation of white guilt?
I have written an entire book that exhorts people to “Gather at the Table” to heal from the acrimonious inheritance of our past. In it, Tom DeWolf and I try to deconstruct the paradigm of slavery and racism. We end our book with a call for people to become like “ripples on a pond” – start with oneself and spread the wisdom outward. Is our effort in vain or will it be the call that finally awakes an America sleeping in the comfort of a recently minted belief (coined in 2008, when Obama was elected) in a “post racial” America?
The Mahatma Ghandi said “You must be the change you wish to see in the world.” Is this it?
I pose my provocative question because — to the very root of my being – it is a question that cries out for an answer. I need to know.
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