A Provocative Question

Posted March 25th, 2012 by

Trayvon Martin

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.

6 responses to “A Provocative Question”

  1. So many right & left thought we had moved beyond this and are suddenly disabused of this comfortable thought.

  2. Phil says:

    Thank you Sharon. These are poignant thoughts. We live in a world that groans for justice, for right relationships. I pray the words that you and Tom have penned will do a great part in creating the ripples of a just world, beginning with each of us.

  3. Sylvia Lewis says:

    Thank you Sharon for these heart-felt thoughts. I can feel your passion and pain. We hear you clarion call to wake up! One love, Sylvia

  4. About the 'now,' it takes time. It takes a crisis, courage, commitment, and sacrifice to do now. Now means stop, enough. I think of the times when overhearing my grands say something inappropriate to one another in a heated argument, that I have let go by, then it gets to the point that it gets out of control. My statement to them is shouting 'Enough! come hear, and we are going to squash this NOW! or else!

    Another child has been killed, this time in a gated community (to most this equals high security.) We hear numerous recordings of folks and two children scrambling to get help through 911, one of the children who called 911 was Trayvon, and with in seconds of a 911 call you can hear Trayvon screams for help…a gun shot rings out…all is silent.

    It was not hearsay, we all heard, it traumatized us all. All of us feel an heighten sense of fear and fight. All of us have no more confidence in our law system from the Supreme Courts to local municipalities. My thoughts are that this has sparked so much outrage because we know that when a person can kill a child and walk free, then humanity and civil law no longer exist, and no amount of education, finance, status, or race will provide security. We all know this at the same time, its like being in the water and everyone feels the wave at the same tiime the same way. WE HAVE HAD ENOUGH.

    Each of person has to understand with in their ability whether this is coincidence, or providence.

  5. Joseph Mann says:

    Thanks Sharon, Sent this to all my friends

  6. Awesome. Thank you Sharon.

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