Sunday, July 14, 2013

Put on your dark-colored glasses

Among my nearest and dearest on Facebook and Twitter there is a glaring distinction this morning:  Black friends are outraged at the not-guilty verdict rendered in the George Zimmerman trial for the murder of Trayvon Martin in Sanford, Florida. Most white friends are silent or jubilant.

How could there be such a disparity?  We all heard the same evidence.  How can we see it so differently?  Again, going by social media postings we can think racism, the racial empathy gap, naivete, insurmountably different views of the world we live in, or vividly disparate life experiences.

It is a scary notion that justice faces these challenges every day in the United States.  Zimmerman was judged by a jury of his peers - people who likely view their world in the same way he does.  Chances are, they were not a jury of Trayvon's peers.

While most of us will never end up in front of a jury (despite what some folks think), our whole lives become scarier when we think of those challenges as part of our every day lives.  Are friendships even possible where there is an impossibility to see the world from each other's point of view?  Is rapport at work possible when experiences are so different?  Can there be commonality of purpose at PTA meetings if the fears and concerns for our children are so different?

A few weeks ago, while her racist language was breaking news, I was talking with two white women about celebrity chef Paula Deen.  That conversation drifted into a wider conversation about race, at which point one woman said to me, "You talk about race a lot."  (Trust me, I don't.) It occurred to me then, as it occurs to me now, that her (and others) inability to see that I do not have the luxury of ignoring race comes from those dissimilar life experiences.  She has never been followed around a store.  She has never worried about her husband or her sons being pulled over for no reason.  Every time someone has ever been rude to her, she didn't get a job, or she received poor service she assumed there was some reasonable explanation.  She never had to wonder if it was because of the color of her skin.

Does that mean that we can't be friends?  I hope not.  One day she may be a member of my jury pool.

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