President Obama’s very personal reflections on the outcome of the George Zimmerman trial struck a chord with me. I appreciated how he eloquently spoke to a reality that me and numerous other African-American males face too frequently in this country. There has always been and continues to be a presumption that young Black males are dangerous or even criminal. While this presumption is rooted in a history of White supremacy, we ought not be fooled into thinking that only White people participate in this presumption. If I started pointing fingers, those three fingers pointing back at me would serve as a strong indictment on my own character.
The President’s unscripted reflections gives us an opportunity for some real talk. I have not weighed in on this conversation before for a few reasons. First, out of sheer anger and disbelief about the outcome of the trial, and second, out of exasperation on the discourse surrounding the case. Particularly in the way the term racist is being abused on both sides. We can’t have thoughtful conversations and move society forward on this because race is too polarizing and we are too quick to pull the racist card out of the deck.
It all suggests to me that Richard Rorty was wrong when he declared religion to be a conversation stopper. In America, race is a conversation stopper. We can’t even consider how race may play a factor in anything because we are too afraid that it leads to a charge of racism which is the ultimate, unpardonable sin. Nor can we consider that there might be a gap between a person allowing race stereotypes to factor into their decision process and that person actually being a dyed-in-the-wool racist. It is more nuanced and complicated than that. Yet nuance is not something that we do well in this society.
So I think the President’s last recommendation is the one I am going to focus my personal attention on over the next few days. Not only am I seeking to wring out “as much bias out of myself as I can,” but I am searching for ways to better reach those who are too afraid of the implications of conceding their own social privilege to admit that their biases (our biases) may be getting in the way of social progress. Perhaps by confessing my own privileges and biases, I can help others acknowledge their own and we can move forward together as allies, rather than tread water as enemies.