For every black man in America, from the millionaire in the corner office to the mechanic in the local garage, the Trayvon Martin tragedy is personal. It could have been me or one of my sons. It could have been any of us.That is the opening paragraph of Robinson's Friday column for the Washington Post, titled Trayvon Martin and dangerous times for black men.
"It could have been any of us" - even Robinson himself, a Puliter Prize winning columnist, a noted political commentator on cable tv.
It is the kind of experience that I, a white man in his mid 60s, could never have experienced, except through the eyes and the lives of others - including far too many of the students I teach.
In response to Zimmerman's assertion on the 911 call that Martin looked "up to no good" Robinson offers this:
Please tell me, what would be the innocent way to walk down the street with an iced tea and some Skittles? Hint: For black men, that’s a trick question.A trick question. In my lifetime the New Jersey State Police were cited for their discriminatory pattern of traffic stops - DWB, driving while black.
In my recent lifetime, students who are black have been followed when they walk into convenience stores.
In my recent lifetime, Black Secret Service agents were discriminated against in a Denny's restaurant in Annapolis MD.
There is more- to Robinson's column, and to what little else I can add.
Three paragraphs from the heart of the column:
Black America was never a monolith, but over the past five decades it has become much more diverse — economically, socially, culturally. If you stood on a street corner and chose five black men at random, you might meet a doctor who lives in the high-priced suburbs, an immigrant from Ethiopia who drives a cab, a young aspiring filmmaker with flowing dreadlocks, an unemployed dropout trying to hustle his next meal and a midlevel government worker struggling to put his kids through college.walking down the wrong street at the wrong time could be a fatal mistake - for a black male. Perhaps, unfortunately, even more so that another black man is President.
Those men would have nothing in common, really, except one thing: For each of them, walking down the wrong street at the wrong time could be a fatal mistake.
I hear from people who contend that racism no longer exists in this country. I tell them I wish they were right.
I look at the five black men at random cited by Robinson, and I can see the families of my current students, and some of my former students.
Like Robinson, I wish racism no longer existed in this country. It does. So does homophobia. So does sexism. So does anti-Semitism.
Hate continues to flourish because some benefit by fanning its flames.
They benefit by sowing seeds of fear and hatred, deliberately, in order to gain political power, or economic power.
Robinson chooses not to directly address the law under which Zimmerman MAY walk. He then follows with one more sentence:
But the tragic and essential thing, for me, is the bull’s-eye that black men wear throughout their lives — and the vital imperative to never, ever, be caught on the wrong street at the wrong time.Let me be clear.
There should be no wrong streets - for Blacks, for Arabs, for Muslims, for Jews, for gays, for First Peoples, for Hispanics, for women, for anyone.
We should all be entitled to walk in safety, down any street, at any time.
What saddens me is that we do not learn from these tragedies.
Oh, we recognize the immediate situation and some attempt to address it. As was the case in Laramie Wyoming with Matthew Shepard. But that did not stop the gay bashing.
Nor I fear will this tragedy in Sanford Florida solve our problems with race. Oh perhaps Florida will modify its "Stand Your Ground" law.
Too many have died already.
Too many more will die.
Too many will see their lives constricted by fear, by the idea that they have a bullseye on them.
Unless and until it becomes unacceptable for anyone who purports to be a leader - economic, political, religious, or otherwise - to spout racism, to promote fear and hatred, some will remain targets.
Perhaps all I can do is to think of the end of a film, and speak the words offered by Tony Curtis to protect Kirk Douglas. He said "I am Spartacus" and others joined him.
Marian Wright Edelman wore a hoodie.
I am Trayvon Martin. Mr. Zimmerman, you killed a part of me.
I am not black.
I am not young.
But I am human.
In the words of Shakespeare's Shylock, if you prick me, do I not bleed?
There is so much more, but my words are insufficient. As powerful as his words are, so are those of Eugene Robinson.
What happened is and should be a matter of national urgency.
The soul of our nation is at stake.
We are losing our souls, piece, by piece, by piece.
No more silence.
No more intimidation.
And there is no more important lesson than this for me to address, as a teacher to my students, as a human being to the various communities to which I belong.
My words are I know insufficient.
Our words, and our actions, together, united, are what is necessary to overcome the hatred and fear that kills.