Sometimes it’s Easier When We’re With Our Own Kind: On Race Martin and Zimmerman

07.13.13

I didn’t expect to cry when I heard that George Zimmerman was acquitted of murdering Trayvon Martin. I knew that I felt strongly about this case, I knew that it had tragedy written all over it and that Florida’s stand your ground law was terrifying but I didn’t expect to cry because I thought maybe the jury would at least find Zimmerman guilty of manslaughter.

Manslaughter, you know, when you slaughter a man. Even if it’s a boy. Even if the boy is still a teenager and not yet grown into being called a man.

I sat at dinner with my son two hours ago and at first I tried to explain the Zimmerman case to him and then I just sort of gave up and told him about my experience with our neighbor. Across the street from us is a teenager, in a few weeks he’ll be 17 and and he’s approaching 6’10 at this point. He’s African American and when he bends down to hug me I still see the same big eyes that I saw when he was eight years old standing on boxes and peering over our fence. He’s a good kid and he’s just a kid and I love that boy like I love all the kids on this street (maybe a little more because he was just so cute poking his head over the fence looking for someone to play with).

I live in a part of Los Angeles that’s not particularly mixed. In fact quite a few of the 4.4% of black people in my neighborhood are probably the family across the street. This might not be the easiest place to be non-white.

73% white

About four years ago I was at the grocery store when I noticed some checkers keeping an extra close eye on a teenager who was shopping for candy. I quickly realized it was my neighbor’s son (who was almost six feet tall and about 12 years old at the time). The checkers, who I’d come to really enjoy, were looking at this child with suspicion and something else, something I can’t give a name to and something I’d hoped never to see. Something my white children are unlikely to ever experience. I felt the bile rise in my throat and I walked up to him and said, “Hi honey, what’cha buying? Can I pay for your candy today?” All while glaring at the checkers. He, of course, declined. Having his own money and, quite candidly, his parents make more than Mr. G and I ever have.

This was one of those moments where I understood that my whiteness could protect me and my children and that, tragically, my whiteness would protect my neighbor’s boy from a community that distrusted him. A community that didn’t see a sweet pre-teen with a ridiculously bright smile, but rather a criminal because he’s the wrong color and he’s bigger than they are.

We are not post-racial.

Meanwhile Twitter has handed over user data in a French inquiry into hate speech where #UnBonJuif was a hashtag used to discuss what a good Jew does. According to some in France #AGoodJew is in a gas chamber. This speech is illegal in France and it’s a story worth following because certainly folks will be prosecuted and this will make them stop hating Jews. Oh wait…

I like free speech. I like hate speech. I like knowing who hates who and I’m going to say something that is easy to misinterpret:

It’s easier for us all to be with our own kind.

When I was 15 half my head was green. My boyfriend had tattoos and we looked like every Punk Rocker you’d ever want to avoid. Sometimes people would lock their car doors when they saw us approaching. I know this because you used to have to use your hand to push a button down to lock your car.

I never thought anyone would shoot us. It was never particularly dangerous to be a punk in LA.

When Derrick Jaxn was a teenager he looked like someone who would get shot in Florida.

Derrick Jaxn

He says of himself on his Facebook page:

In 2007, I was a 17 year old boy in high school who at first impression could be profiled as a criminal. I wore baggy clothing, had a foul mouth, and I fit the physical profile of guys who commit crimes every day. A lot like Trayvon.

After Trayvon’s death, white supremacist, Klanklannon, hacked into Trayvon’s email to try and find more pictures of him with gold teeth and smoke, things that would “justify” killing him as he made his way back to his family unarmed.

But what he found was college scholarship applications. Yes, Trayvon Martin had hopes of going to college to study aeronautics. He was also taking honors courses in high school. Even though Trayvon and I are a lot alike, that’s where we differ. He was actually achieving more than I did and had much bigger dreams as a junior in high school.

Another way we differ, is in the opportunity to live out our potential. I’m sure a neighborhood watchman wouldn’t have picked me to obtain a degree 5 years later, start a non-profit, write a book, and go on to reach thousands every day. And he didn’t pick Trayvon either, so sadly we’ll never know what his story could’ve been.

All of this to say, even if you don’t consider yourself racist, be careful of the stereotypes you draw based on looks. Everyone isn’t what they seem, but everyone deserves a chance to prove that.
R.I.P. Trayvon.

Maybe people in Derrick’s community wouldn’t be scared of a 17 year old boy in baggy pants who is posturing because they’d rightly see it as the affect of a teenager experimenting with rebellion and necessarily separating from his parents. If Derrick was a white suburban kid with a skateboard and one of those horrible stretched out ear things white folks wouldn’t be afraid of him, they’d just think he was a dumb teenager. Adolescence and early adulthood is marked by poor decision making and outrageous moments. It’s normal. It’s good.

It’s easier for us when we stay with our own kind. We aren’t challenged to look at another culture, another rebellion or another phase. We just look inward and see our kids as being good kids and everyone else’s as being dangerous or lost.

Nothing worth doing is easy.

So I’m challenging you, all of you, to look at children as children. When I told Jane that Zimmerman was acquitted she said to me, “But he was holding a bag of Skittles.” That’s right about when I started to cry.

Our criminal justice system is a good one. Florida couldn’t prove that Zimmerman was a murderer so he’s not going to jail. That doesn’t mean that Zimmerman is innocent or not a killer. This doesn’t exonerate Zimmerman, proclaim him to be a good person or make him trustworthy. Zimmerman killed a child and no one is arguing that point. I’m sad that Zimmerman won’t spend his life in prison but I’m comforted in knowing that his world will serve as a virtual prison and that the bulk of society will shun him and hopefully keep him under enough of a microscope that he won’t be able to hunt someone else’s child. Our criminal justice system is set up to keep the innocent out of the system and the burden of guilt lies with the state. I wish today Zimmerman was in prison but it just wasn’t to be.

It’s easier for me as a white suburban lady to look at a teenage boy with a snarl on his face and a skateboard at his feet and recognize normal teenage rebellion. Sometimes that boy will be smoking a cigarette or even a joint. Part of me even smiles when I see this because, though it’s miserable for the parents, it’s a normal part of development. Bad decisions are part of being a teen and a young adult.

Here’s my challenge to you. And I would never issue a challenge to you that I wouldn’t take on myself. My challenge is for you to look at African American, Mexican, Native American and Pacific Islander teens the same way you’d look at your own white teen. My challenge to my caucasian readers is for you to look at these kids for what they are. They’re dopey kids making silly decisions. They aren’t a threat to you and they’re some mother’s pain the ass. They’re finding their place in the world and making a 4 mistakes to every good decision in exactly the same manner you did at 17 and possibly at 22.

It’s easier for all of us to stay with our own kind. It’s also insanely dangerous and I’m asking you today to get outside your comfort zone. I’m not asking you to identify yourself or you hidden prejudice (we all have it). I’m just asking you to be a better person. I’m asking you to make a change.

My neighbor’s son needs to be able to buy candy without a white lady to help him.

Sometimes My Inbox Leaves Me Speechless

11.16.12

I wasn’t sure how to deal with this particular bit of email so I thought I’d share it with y’all without commentary.

Or maybe with commentary… I really haven’t decided yet… Anyhow this is from my inbox, unedited except to remove phone numbers. What can you possibly say to someone who sees the world this way?

Jessica Gottlieb

re: Story idea.

Dear Jessica,

Last week, a columnist at TheHill.com wrote an open letter to Matt Drudge asking him to stop reporting stories involving racial violence.

As the mother of a son who was recently almost killed at the hands of a black mob, I say this violence happens more than is reported.

And we need to hear about it when it does.

The people who beat my son were never arrested. I put up a web site to bring them to justice. Justice for Trevor

There is also a good book on it: White Girl Bleed a Lot: The return of racial violence and how the media ignore it.

We need more reporting on this. Not less.

And that is why I wrote this article for Matt Drudge.

I recognize this is a difficult topic for a lot of reporters. Maybe that is the best reason of all for talking about it without generalities. Without stereotypes. But with facts. Which is what this commentary does.

If you find this interesting, give me a call.

Sincerely,

Sherry Godfrey

Springfield, Missouri

417.xxx.xxxx

p.s. Here is a story about our experience. Justice For Trevor Godfrey in Springfield, Missouri.

DEAR MR. DRUDGE: 

Please keep telling the truth about racial violence

by Sherry Godfrey

Dear Mr. Drudge:

As the mother of a young man who was recently almost killed at the hands of black mob, I was a surprised to read a columnist pleading with you to stop reporting on racial violence.

Our family had no idea that racial violence happened so frequently — and ferociously. All over the country.

That is because it is so rarely reported.

If we would had known about it, maybe our family could have been spared almost a year of physical and mental torture.

That is why we need more reporting on this. Not less.

Our trip through hell began in January. Our son was a student at Missouri State University in Springfield when, next to his off-campus house, members of a Afro American fraternity were having a party. Also present were several members of the Missouri State University football team.

During previous – and frequent — parties there, several cars had been vandalized. So my son decided to go outside and move his. It was almost 2 a.m. and near his car a group of 20 black people gathered.

The next thing he knew, he was in the hospital with bleeding, head injuries, and missing teeth and facial lacerations.

We later found out this was the second attack from that party within 30 minutes. A few weeks later, many of the same people were at a different party where it happened again. This time the victim had been in a minor bike accident when someone from the party — 20 feet away — came over and extended a hand to help him up. Then he punched him in the face and walked away laughing.

All three attacks came in the presence of large groups of Afro-American people.

Despite the presence of dozens of witnesses, no one was arrested. Nor did the assaults rise to the level of newsworthiness in the local press.

After several months of official inaction, I started investigating the crimes myself.  So did one of the other moms. We learned from police reports and our own phone calls who was at the parties and who saw what doing what.  This information was handed over to the School officials as well as the Police.  Neither seemed interested enough to even question many of the parties listed in the police reports.  After 9 months of inaction, I decided my only hope was to get the story out there on my own.

I posted it on a web page: JusticeinSpringfield.com. My family is hoping someone will come forward and say something.

But I also learned that black mob violence is an increasingly common — and ignored — fact of life in this country.

It happens in big cities where you might expect it: Philadelphia, Chicago, New York, Baltimore, Washington, Detroit and Los Angeles. It also happens in places that are not generally thought of as centers of urban violence: Minneapolis, Milwaukee, Portland, Seattle, San Francisco. It happens on college campuses. It happens in small towns like Peoria, Champaign, and now Springfield, Missouri. It happens to women, gay people, and  Asians.

A lot of it is on video. Still people deny it.

In Philadelphia, a social worker said it was just kids “blowing off some steam.” In Chicago, the Superintendent of Police blamed  Sarah Palin. In Baltimore, they focus their investigation on what the victims did to provoke the assault.

Others say it is not happening; then say the black mob violence is some kind of Karmic pay back for 400 years of white oppression.

The deniers are just as evil as the predators.

If you have never been to Springfield, there might be a  reason: Not much happens here. It is the home of Brad Pitt and Bass Pro Shops. It is a quiet and safe place to raise a family. So we thought.

After learning more about this epidemic of racial violence — well documented in Colin Flaherty1s White Girl Bleed a Lot: The return of racial violence and how the media ignore it, and in the news site WND.com — I asked the police officers investigating the assault on my son if this had ever happened before in Springfield.

“All the time,” he said.

But no stories in the paper.

Newspaper editors and police administrators are scared to death of reporting on black mob violence. Many even say so. One accusation of racism can kill a career and they know it.

As a result, the attackers are bolder. Even less concerned with getting caught. So it grows.

Today people are dying. Or in the case of my son, almost dying and still suffering.   As is our entire family.  We didn’t know about the epidemic of racial violence until we read Flaherty1s book and his news stories in

WND.com. Now we do.

Other families need to know as well. On behalf of them, Mr. Drudge, I ask — I plead — please keep telling the truth.

And to other media outlets around the country, I also have a request of you: Please start.

Passing: Maybe not as “White” but Still Passing for Something

01.27.12

Today I had a three hour salon appointment and one of those hours was spent listening to my stylist complain about Those Old Jewish Ladies. Only five or so minutes was spent with her regaling me with the tale of how she pretended to be Jewish to get out of a speeding ticket.

As she was flat ironing my hair and complaining about the Horrible Old Jewish Ladies who do nothing but complain I sat smiling and wondering if I was doing the right thing. Should I have gotten up from the chair with my hair half done and caused a scene? Should I have said to her, “I’m Jewish.” Should I have goaded her along and asked her how she knew that they were Old Jewish Ladies? Was it their big noses, thrifty ways or perhaps they stopped to daven halfway though a service?

derjude the jew incitor of war poster

I’m listening and wondering what it would really feel like, what it would look like if I walked out of a salon, head half finished and simply refused to pay. I sat back and every scenario simply had me thinking that I’d look like a prickly ass. Now, I’m not sure that this is the truth but every scenario I imagined didn’t have me looking like a good guy.

When I left the salon I updated my facebook status

anti_semetic_hairdresser

The comments that came in were predictable. There were quite a few exclamations Wow and Shut up being popular. I think people were left speechless (as was I).

My friend Navah wanted to know which salon. Quite a few other people asked me to Yelp review it. I’m not going to do that, though I did sit in that chair and know that I could cripple this woman’s business. I’m not reviewing my anti-Semitic hairdresser online because she doesn’t own the salon. Yes, she’s been there a good long time, yes, she’s a jerk, but salons are gatherings of professionals and I don’t want to try and shoot my hairdresser in the kneecaps, miss and then shoot one of her coworkers in the heart. As a side note Navah is incredibly beautiful. If she says to see Diane at Piero salon we all probably should.

This is all figuratively speaking folks. I’m not shooting anyone any time soon.

I don’t have a good reason for sitting there and listening to her nonsense. Not only did I pay and leave, but I left a generous 18% tip (you know… generous by Jewish standards).

nina_grimes_stewart_tweet

My friend Nina Grimes Stewart had a clear vision of me either leaving after a one liner or (more accurately) realizing there’s no point to it anyway. I’m not one to keep things to myself. Trust me, my life could have been a lot simpler with some tongue biting. What struck me about Nina just knowing that some discussions aren’t worth having is that Nina’s father is Milton Grimes, the iconic civil rights attorney. If Nina, who has lived a lifetime of racial discrimination stories at her dinner table, could see quickly and clearly that this woman wasn’t worth my breath I felt vindicated of my inaction.

Sometimes there are discussions that can’t be had. Sometimes I recognize that I’ll be seen as shrill or sanctimonious. Sometimes it’s just not the right audience.

I love Shannon for hitting the nail on the head with her response.

Shannon_Bradley_Colleary

I hear stories of people passing for whatever the majority is. I guess today I passed for Not a Jewish Lady. 

Servite High School: January 2009

12.31.09

The name of the team is the Friars. The rest is without commentary

Eye Black, Football and High School

12.30.09

I’m taking a lot of flack for thinking that a teenage boy shouldn’t paint his face black for a football game.

Servite is a High School in Anaheim, CA. They have a very good football team and (I now find) a less than stellar reputation.

High School Athletics in California are still left to teachers. Teachers in California (as opposed to Coaches in adulthood) are responsible for turning out well rounded young men and women. Ideally a school will also teach kids that they are lucky to be part of a community and they can add great things to it.

Perhaps I wasn’t completely clear in my post last night.

When a High School Football Coach sees a child paint their entire face black (eye black or not I don’t care) that coach has an obligation to the child to take him aside and explain to him what painting one’s face black used to symbolize. The coaches failed the children. The coaches failed the parents, whose money they gladly accept.

If the point of High School is education, then Servite is a failure. If the point of High School is playing football games, Servite has been magnificent.

I realize some NFL players use eye black in an excessive and decorative pattern, but I’ve yet to see an NFL player cover their entire face in eye black. The argument that this child is imitating NFL players is false. There has never been an NFL player that has completely covered his face in eye black.

Chris Hovan is well known for wearing excessive and “menacing” eye black. Does this look like he’s painted his entire face?

The real issue is that this is High School. Ostensibly athletics are there to support academics. I’m curious if a history teacher was on hand, and if they gasped a little when they saw their student?