I struggled with whether I could follow the televised trial of George Zimmerman every night. The murder of any child, regardless of race and/or gender, names every parent's deepest fear. I didn't know if I could revisit Trayvon Martin's final moments of life, a pain that seemed too great to hear a second time.
And Trayvon's isn't the only story. Stories of African-American teens gone way too soon due to gun-related deaths are a reoccurring theme in the news. According to the Children's Defense Fund, these deaths take the lives of thousands of children each year, and "young black males die from gun violence at a rate 2.5 times higher than Latino males and eight times higher than white males." I mourn for the loss of all our children.
Trayvon's death has made me reflect on conversations with my 19-year-old son. As a black woman of faith, I stay on my knees in prayer for his protection because I know the reality of racial profiling based on the stereotype that African-American males are more threatening and aggressive and, therefore, subject to greater suspicion. (A stereotype is a set of assumptions and beliefs either positive or negative that people make about the characteristics of all members of a group). When he was a child, I reminded him to keep his hands out of his pockets when shopping in stores for fear of being accused of stealing. When he learned to drive, I drilled into him to keep his hands on the steering wheel and not make any sudden moves if detained by law enforcement. No amount of money, socioeconomic status or geographical boundaries can shield my son from the sting of racism. I despise the fact that these are the lessons I must teach my beautiful son.
Whether the subject of race was introduced in Zimmerman's trial, it was present inside and outside the courtroom, both consciously and unconsciously. For many in the African-American community, the not guilty verdict triggered the historical trauma endured by racism. From the brutality of slavery, to the lynching trees bearing the strange fruit of black bodies, to the overt racism of the Jim Crow South, to the everyday racism experienced through interpersonal interactions, to the even more insidious racism of policies and practices that have a disproportionate impact for people and communities of color, it's impossible to live in America and not be aware of race.
In a nation of racial and ethnic diversity, sometimes the only way we learn about each other is through the lens of stereotypes. In the wake of the Zimmerman verdict, President Barack Obama called for candid conversations on race to take place in families, churches and workplaces. While it's essential to recognize the unique history of African-Americans, racism is not just a "black-white" issue. We all must examine our biases and prejudices.
Three things you and your congregation can do in talking about race:
• Start by listening to the concerns of your community and the voices of young people (especially African-American males) who are speaking up about their experiences.
• Get to know more about U.S. history. Read about civil rights history, visit a civil rights museum or look for age-appropriate resources for your family.
• Download (free) from www.elca.org the resource "One Body, Many Members, a Journey Across Race, Class and Culture."
© 2014 Augsburg Fortress, Publishers