I’ve kept up with the Trayvon Martin saga from the beginning. Like many of you I watched the news coverage, read the articles, and talked about it with friends. It dominated public conversation and provoked a much needed discussion about race in America. The ugly reality of racism was pushed in front of our faces, and even those who like to pretend it doesn’t exist were forced to talk about it.
Over a year later, Trayvon’s killer has been tried and found not guilty. Does that mean we should move on from the issues? They found him innocent, so these “race issues” must not be as real as we thought they were, txoj cai? That couldn’t be further from the truth. I have no intention of arguing about the facts, Trayvon’s character, or the verdict in this tragic situation, but I do think some discussion should continue. The trial is over, but the conversation shouldn’t be.
Why the Interest?
I know there are many who wonder why this particular trial has captured the attention of so many. Others wonder why some black folks are so quick to sympathize with Trayvon Martin, despite the fact that he had issues of his own. After all, none of us were there and we don’t know exactly what happened. While that’s true, I did find myself emotionally invested in the whole ordeal. I can’t speak for everybody, but I can tell you why I found myself sympathizing with Trayvon and the Martin family.
When I hear about a young black teenager walking home from the store, and the man who assumed he was a criminal before knowing anything about him, I can relate. You may not be able to. Maybe you’ve never been followed around in a department store by a security guard for no reason. Kuv muaj. Maybe you’ve never had a convenient store clerk scream at you to leave, assuming that the blackberry on your hip is a gun that you plan to shoot him with. Kuv muaj.
Maybe you’ve never smiled and greeted people you’ve passed on the street, only to have them avoid eye contact, clutch their belongings, and quickly walk away. Kuv muaj. Maybe you’ve never been pushed against a wall, held at gunpoint, and handcuffed by police (who are supposed to protect you) because you “look like a suspect we were looking for.” Kuv muaj (and I looked nothing like that suspect). All of these incidents are minor and none of them significantly threatened my life. Most, if not all, of my black friends have been through similar situations. And countless others have endured much, much worse.
If you’ve never experienced this sort of thing, you may not understand why this case resonates so deeply with us. But when I hear his story, I hear my story. And my father’s story. And my son’s story. I have no idea what happened after Mr. Zimmerman made assumptions about that young man, but before the altercation, there was nothing extraordinary about the incident. It happens every single day.
Profiling is real, and it’s often racial. Some people think they have the gift of discovering character just by looking at a person. Just like a dark blue uniform and badge means law enforcement, dark skin and a hoodie means lawbreaker. No conversation has happened, but an imaginary rap sheet is attached. Violent character is assumed. They think about the gangster image they saw on TV, or the danger their parents told them about, or the horrible crime they witnessed – and they place all of that baggage on a person they’ve never even met. We never have the right to draw unwarranted conclusions about a person– even if they do turn out to be troubled.
These kinds of assumptions are disgusting and false. God made all human beings in His image with value and worth. Yet all of us are sinful and fail to display God’s image as we should. Every single one of us can turn from our sins, trust Christ, and be made right by our Creator. But racism picks and chooses which people these truths should be applied to. Racism says, “I’m valuable and good, and all of those people are wicked.”
This prideful rebellion against God and opposition to His Gospel should be of interest to God’s people. We shouldn’t ignore it, and we shouldn’t be afraid to address it. The Good News is that Jesus came to die for both racist and non-racist sinners. Former enemies can become friends in Him, and benefit from the exact same grace. Who will step up, address this issue, and proclaim the truth? Whether or not you think race is a factor in this case, you can’t deny that race is a factor in the lives of so many of us every day.
What Do We Do Now?
So how should we respond? Maybe we should move on in one sense. Maybe we should stop arguing about the stuff we’re not sure about. We don’t know every single detail of that night; otherwise we would have been called as witnesses. And whether or not we like the verdict, it’s out of our hands.
Maybe we should stop arguing, and start praying. Pray for the families. Pray that God would keep His promise to send His Son to bring perfect justice. The Lord doesn’t need lawyers to argue their cases, and He doesn’t need evidence presented. He has no need for jurors to give Him their perspective. He sees all, knows all, and judges with perfect justice.
But in another sense, we most definitely should not move on. We should not stop talking about the racism that still lurks in our world. If you’ve experienced it, help those who haven’t experienced it to understand. Be patient with your friends as they clumsily seek to comprehend what you’ve gone through. And please don’t prove them right by fulfilling negative stereotypes. Trust Christ, and pray God would mold your character to look more like His.
If you’ve never been on the receiving end of racism, sympathize with those who have. Learn about their experiences. You can’t love someone if you ignore or belittle their concerns. Please never assume that people are just complaining and playing the “race card.” Seek to understand them, and respect the fact that some of us live in different realities and have to endure different trials.
Whatever you do, just don’t stop talking about it.