There has been a great deal of conversation in the States over the last week concerning a court case that has been on-going over the last year. A Latino man was accused of the murder of a young African American teen whom he had suspected of suspicious activity. After a year of deliberation in court, the man was acquitted of the charges as his actions were deemed to be in self defense. Opinions have since been radically split from acceptance and defense of the verdict to outrage and complete objection to what seems to them a severe social injustice. And whether the verdict is just or not remains generally elusive, since only the accused was present to give his account.
This case remains as a legal controversy. And not in that the wrong decision was made, but that a poor assumption was made. This assumption being that this young African American teen, clothed in a dark hood and walking home from the store at night, looked suspicious by nothing other than his outward appearance. This has remained at the center of discussion in living rooms and online forums for the last week all across the United States.
And even though the case is over, I hope the discussion continues.
You see here in the States, racism remains a significant problem and a taboo too radical and touchy to address without provocation. And though slavery was defeated in the mid 1800's and the Civil Rights movement of the 1950's through the early 1980's allowed equal civil and voting rights for ALL American citizens, racism remains. Now no longer an outright structural issue, racism now exists as a set of assumptions. It is the assumption that a person has only a certain behavioral or attitudinal set of responses for a given situation or circumstance. We even make these assumptions of ourselves!
For example: have you ever heard someone excuse their drinking habit on their Irish background or anger issues for being German?
Yet many in my country deny the ongoing existence of racism in the social system, most of which have never been followed by mall security, or had people avoid direct eye contact on the street; have never greeted a stranger who tightly clutched their purse in response or have never had the police called on them for working on their car at night...yet will still excuse drunken misconduct and violent fits of anger on their heritage.
Growing up, I used to suspect that African Americans had a primary tendency towards violence, anger, and vulgar speech. And when I saw a white kid acting likewise, I assumed they were "trying to be black" and I shook my head. I had yet to see it demonstrated otherwise, until in Junior High when I met a young African American who was mild-mannered and well-spoken. It completely flipped my assumptions on their ear. Fast forward 10 years, where I moved to a metropolitan area to attend University and I finally observed much more concretely that there is a distinct difference between race and culture, where it wasn't that white kids were acting black...they were just acting urban!
When did we start thinking it's okay to use race as a crutch for our own selves yet deny that we do so for others? It is because we have yet to realize that it is the individual, not the individual's color, that is responsible for their behavior. The fact is, we are all the product of our own culture; the sum of the behaviors that we have observed, accepted, and/or rejected during our development. We live according to the accumulations of what we have been taught or have adjusted to while observing and interpreting the world from our first breath up until the end of this sentence and beyond!
But if you are reading this seriously, and I hope you are, I would like to ask you this question: What are your assumptions of other people? What do you expect them to act according to? Is it their color? Or their culture?
And what do you expect YOURSELF to act according to? Are the assumptions built into you from your earliest years culminating to this moment worth developing or rethinking?
Racism is a stain on our humanity. It asserts that there are some of us as image-bearers of the Almighty that are less worthy of it. It assumes that it is a mistake that some of us draw breath. Yet which one of us is sovereign enough to make that call?
I would like to encourage you to keep talking. Keep delving into discussion; don't pass it off as being finished now that the gavel has dropped. It is not. Learn how to see yourself as worthy. Develop an attitude which will recognized the worthiness in others. And if you have never been on the receiving end of racism, learn to sympathize with those who have. Share in their story. You can't love people if you continue to belittle them or ignore their concerns. And don't assume that people who complain about the state of the world are just playing the race card. Learn from their journey and respect the fact that some of us live in different realities and must face our own struggles and circumstances.
Keep talking. Keep learning. Keep loving.