One of the best op-eds I’ve read concerning the Trayvon Martin murder (and make no mistake, it’s a murder) comes from AP writer Jesse Washington, titled, “Trayvon Martin, My Son, and the Black Male Code.”
Washington speaks about how every young black man must be on the look out when he’s by himself. When police confront him, he must be extra careful. When walking in a predominately white neighborhood, he must do all that he can to present himself as a non-threat. Why? Because more often than not his mere presence will look suspicious, which could lead to arrests or worse (especially in the tragic case of Trayvon Martin).
It’s safe to say that the Martin murder has helped to polarize our nation even further. On one side, we have people beginning to claim that Zimmerman was justified because he got into a scuffle with the young man. “Obviously, Martin got what was coming to him! He shouldn’t have fought!” But let’s reverse the roles here; Martin, who is black, is following Zimmerman, who is part white and part Hispanic. Zimmerman, fearful for why he’s being followed, begins to run. Martin follows. The two end up in a fight when Zimmerman decides to stand his ground and Martin ends up shooting Zimmerman in “self-defense.” How would the law and populace react there? The “self-defense” argument wouldn’t hold up because Martin had instigated it; besides, don’t we just expect young black males to case out their victims prior to robbing them?
And yet, because it was Zimmerman who hunted down Martin, because it was Zimmerman who chased Martin down, and because it was Martin who stood his ground and died for it, our first reaction is, “Well, he had every right to think that Martin was suspicious looking; he was wearing a hoody!” Hence the unfortunate and sickening necessity for the Black Male Code.
I agree with Washington that not all white people are this way, nor are all people period this way. Likewise, even for those that are, it doesn’t prove they are racist; merely that they’ve bought into certain social stereotypes. I know for myself this incident reminds me of my own reaction a few months ago, one that I’m ashamed of. As I was walking down the street, two young black males who had obviously just gotten out of school began to cross the street to the point where I was walking. My immediate thought was, “Are they going to try to rob me?” Now, to be fair, I’m a bit paranoid and having worked with teenagers I find it hard it trust any teenager, thus I’ve found myself thinking the same way when I see young white males with shaved heads. But the entire point is that my initial reaction isn’t indifference or a realization that they’re probably not going to rob me, but to fear them. Hence the unfortunate and sickening necessity for the Black Male Code.
Of course, as wrong as our society is to harbor these stereotypes, it doesn’t help when so-called “Black Leaders” help to enforce those stereotypes. When we have the New Black Panther party calling for the death of Zimmerman and the Nation of Islam doing the same, how far have we actually progressed as a society? If anything, when people call for such a thing and face no repercussions by our justice department, the oppressed have become the oppressors. We can think back to Mississippi in 1950 and imagine a black male killing a white male. Back then, people would have called for lynch mobs to kill the black male, especially if he escaped prosecution. We view such vigilante justice as abhorrent and racist; but we should view the modern calls for Zimmerman’s head as no less abhorrent and racist.
In short, our society has made great strides for racial equality, but has regressed significantly in the past few decades. The dream of Martin Luther King Jr, that all of us would be judged by the content of our character than the color of our skin, seems to be forgotten and empty on our current generation. Rather, it seems very much that we are still judged on our skin color; if you’re black and walking in a white neighborhood while wearing a hoodie, then you’re “suspicious.” If you’re white then you’re automatically a racist. If you’re black and commit a crime against a white person, then it’s “typical.” If you’re white and commit a crime against a black person, it’s a hate crime, regardless of your motive. In short, we’re still judged by how we look and not by who we are.
I’ve heard white people say, on multiple occasions, “Wow, he’s very articulate for a black man” or “Wow, he’s very intelligent for a black man.” Alternatively, I’ve heard black people say, “Wow, he’s very understanding for a white guy.” Thus, even when we do value the person’s character, we still do it in a racist manner; we’re shocked when someone of a different color than ourselves is actually upstanding and respectable.
It’s hard to see what the ultimate solution is other than sacrificial love. Short of viewing everyone in the way Christ views them, I don’t see how we can move beyond our racism. Short of helping one another out regardless of skin color, of desegregating our churches (the last bastion of segregation), of learning what it’s like to experience our society within one of our various sub-cultures, we cannot fix this problem. The early Church was composed of different races and cultures; it had high society Romans and Germanic Barbarians. It had the noblest of men and even their slaves. It had men and women. It had Europeans and Africans. Looking at the early Church Fathers we see black men (Athanasius was called “the black dwarf”), Arabs, Huns, Goths, Franks, and everything in between. Their unity wasn’t found in their skin color, nor was it found in abandoning what made their culture distinctive; what unified them was Christ and Christ alone. We should seek the same thing if for no other reason so that there are no more Trayvon Martins, no more Black Male Code, no more mobs against either race. Let us seek Christ so that we might one day judge one another on our character rather than our skin color.