Earlier this month, I made my grand return to Europe. After having spent six months studying abroad in the most charming and delightful city on God’s green earth, Paris, I was very excited for what would be a homecoming of sorts. The added bonus was that I have law school classmates/dear friends who are studying in London and Paris, respectively, so my trip served as a much-needed reunion, as well. In all, I visited London, Rome and Paris (it was my first trip to Rome — where I traveled alone for the first time — and it was everything I could have imagined).
Throughout the trip, one major topic of discussion among my friends and I was the manner in which race manifests itself in these different countries. Generally, I find that Europeans imagine themselves as being more racially tolerant and inclusive than Americans. In fact, this much was vehemently argued by a French-African my own friend has become acquainted with since arriving in Paris. The French and British, for example, point to the rates at which citizens of their country have no issues with dating and marrying across races. This, they argue, is the ultimate sign of a society unconcerned with the social construct that is race — the welcoming of genetic material ever so slightly different than your own into the lives of your future offspring. “Why are Black Americans so obsessed with race?,” the French-African asked. “Just live your life — quit letting idiots have such control over your emotions.” In the words of the brilliant Lauryn Hill, “It could all be so simple…”
This conversation, interestingly enough, came only a few days prior to the ascendency of the tragic story of Trayvon Martin to mainstream and social media. My heart truly breaks for his family, and for the loss of a lifetime’s worth of already-fulfilled and not-yet-known potential. It speaks volumes about race relations in America in a way that is difficult to wrap one’s head around. But I will try… :-).
We all imagine that George Zimmerman is a racist whose defenses were raised, and offenses were kicked into overdrive by young, Black, and hood-ied Trayvon’s presence. This might be a safe assumption, notwithstanding his family’s, friends’ and neighbors’ steady and ever-increasing cry that Zimmerman is a great guy who doesn’t have a racist bone in his body. Either way, we can’t really know for sure.
We point to Florida’s Stand Your Ground Law — the statute based on which the local Sheriff has said Zimmerman merely acted in self-defense — as proof that racism is structural or, in other words, built into the very laws that govern our society. Well, Florida’s Governor, Jeb Bush, as well as the legislator who drafted the statute, have both vehemently contended that such laws were not meant to apply in cases like this — that is, where the alleged self-defender actively pursued the so-called aggressor.
So, where does that leave us?
I suggest that the case of Trayvon Martin demonstrates the full extent of the benefits and protections associated with White Male Privilege — White Privilege in its ultimate form, if you will. In this particular case, White Male Privilege may be associated with the fact that Zimmerman’s father is a retired Supreme Court Magistrate Judge, and his mother is a Clerk in the local courthouse, but we can’t know for sure — this link is speculative, at best. These facts aside, the broader point still stands that we live in a country where Black men do time in federal prison for operating a dog fighting ring (see, e.g., Michael Vick), while White civilians and members of law enforcement alike continue to have full access to their freedom and liberty, even after killing unarmed Black citizens in cold blood (see, e.g., Amadou Diallo, Sean Bell, and Rekia Boyd). Of course, race and racism runs through it all — the White Fear-Black Threat dynamic truly is not a figment of the imagination.
So, what to do?
In the true spirit of the Black church — your Sunday morning encounter with God is not complete without a routine and welcomed dose of social and political commentary — my pastor made some interesting comments about this matter this past Sunday. “How do you fight racism of the kind that is embedded in one’s heart and mind? You can’t fight this kind of racism, so don’t try,” he cautions. There may be some merit to this contention. For example, I hate rodents, so much so that I can’t even stand to say the word “rodent”. Despite anyone’s best effort, I will never have a “Come to Jesus Moment” and cozy up to a rodent. Analogously, it is almost futile to think that anything anyone could ever say or do — including becoming the President of the United States against all odds — will change the heart and mind of a racist.
Structural racism, however, is of a different kind. And while it has taken centuries to inculcate the type of structures and institutions that make White Male Privilege possible, such structures and institutions are, at least, identifiable and thus ripe for dis-assembly. One might suggest that repealing Stand Your Ground-type laws is a start to help prevent another Trayvon-like situation from occuring. My problem, however, is not with such laws. In fact, if someone runs up in my crib (I am, after all, a single woman living alone in Harlem), I’m shooting to kill — and you can believe it. And God knows that I hope that I would be well within my legal right to do so.
The way forward, then, I suggest is not rallying against the type of racism George Zimmerman has in his heart, or even against state self-defense laws. Instead, perhaps the rhetoric and discourse needs to be shifted in a way that sheds light on the way the criminal justice system disparately punishes individuals based on the race of the aggressor and the victim, respectively. At a minimum, Trayvon Martin continues to demonstrate the complete and utter lack of value society places on Black lives lost at the hands of White murderers. This is a sustainable rallying cry.
In the mean time, I’m going to go ahead and point out the Pink Elephant in the room. We throw ourselves at the alter of injustice when a White person unjustifiably kills a Black person. Why is our fervor any less passionate when we kill each other? That, my friends, is a discussion for another day :-).
This week, I decided to pay homage to the food of my traveling experience. I started out with an Italian favorite, bruschetta.
I made three types of quiche: mushroom, red pepper, onion, and spinach with gouda cheese; mushroom, red pepper, and onion with cheddar cheese; and spinach and bacon with an Italian blend of cheeses.
Finished off with homemade tiramisu, another Italian staple.
All in all, a great meal!