Sunday, July 21, 2013

Obama on Trayvon Martin, George Zimmerman & Race

President Obama speaks on race in America, a subject that will not go away. 

Trayvon Martin

Trayvon Martin's death and the George Zimmerman verdict did not cause racial divide in this country. The country was already divided.

Trayvon Martin's death and the George Zimmerman verdict have opened dialog on America's racial divide. 

The Martin death and Zimmerman verdict are difficult to approach without emotion, taking into consideration that two human beings--one who has been killed and one whose life has changed forever. Opening this American dialog on racial divide is comparable to opening a festering wound that seems to have gone untreated for centuries. However, treatment has been applied many times during the history of our nation. The problem is that the treatment had to be forced by circumstances that were resisted by certain factions of the population. For example, after the Civil War, in order to placate the old Confederacy, the Union handed over the U.S. Senate to the southern states that were fashioned new weapons to fight for their Lost Cause and Jim Crow was born to keep former slaves as close to slavery as possible. Then came the Civil Rights Movement that struck down Jim Crow laws that were replaced by more subtle forms of discrimination and so on and so on.

The purpose of this blog post is:
Not to re-teach American History
Not to retry the Zimmerman case
Not to question the jury

The purpose of this blog post is to help me better understand what is going on in my world. And please bare with me because the only way I know to do this is to do what I do--write. As I write, I am able to dissect my nation's racial divide, examine and compare the history of civil rights protests over this racial divide, and assess President Obama's response to recent unrest associated the death of Trayvon Martin and the George Zimmerman verdict.

Recent controversy and heated exchanges between the different factions of American society over Trayvon Martin's death and the George Zimmerman verdict make it clear that we, as a nation, have a problem, a serious problem in race relations that did not start with the shooting of a teenage boy by a neighborhood watch captain. The problem runs deep into the soul of America's violent origins and development. As much as I love this country and would not want to live or to have been born in any other, I think it is time to make a close observation of what most of us do not understand or do not want to see and, certainly, do not want to acknowledge about our nation. We are divided. We pretend otherwise in each other's faces. But what happens behind closed doors and closed minds?

A long way from healing, if ever, is in our future if we do not change the way we talk about each other behind each other's backs because the way we talk about each other behind closed doors reveals how we feel about each other. Don't get me wrong, I do not care if you love me and you should not care if I love you. What should matter to both of us, however, is how we treat each other. Now, if it takes a law to make me treat you better and make you treat me better, then make a law. However, the law will not bring us out of the mired abyss we have created here in our beloved country, but it will make us tolerate each other until we grow more accustomed to being around each other.

Rosa Parks & Martin Luther King
Montgomery Bus Boycott
Stride Toward Freedom:
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As I see it, the racial divide that keeps people in the state of unrest is more about a cultural divide. Those who have are intolerant of those who do not have, or those perceived to not have. Because history has prescribed certain skin to be associated with those who do not have, a stereotype formed. 

Well, it is time to bury that outdated character along with Jim Crow, a minstrel character that represented a set of legal discriminatory statutes that began a dismantling with Rosa Parks, Martin Luther King and the Montgomery Bus Boycott in 1955, and other civil rights leaders of that era who had a clear set of goals to get specific laws struck down. This struggle had a much more directed purpose than where to sit on a bus. 

The laws on the books changed, but the way we perceive each other remains fundamentally unchanged as people in different cultural settings and income brackets grow farther and farther apart in lifestyle and understanding of a common environment. We, the amalgamated Americans, do not trust each other to do the right thing toward one another. Could our own racism be how we got to this current state of agitation? Could racist-fueled distrust be why so many have hijacked this death and verdict?

Is racial divide beyond repair? 
If racial divide is beyond repair, where do we go from here? 
If racial divide is not beyond repair, how do we go about repairing it?
Have we become too comfortable with our own racism?

As I see it, the racial divide that continues to deepen in this country was a racial ditch long before we knew who George Zimmerman and Trayvon Martin were. Here is another thing. Is right to use Trayvon Martin in this way? Does he deserve to have his image defiled, waved on flags, worn on clothing or flashed on posters? Would this be the case if there was no racial divide in America? Could selfish motivations be tempted to use him that way if there was no racial divide? 

In fact, if there was no racial divide in our nation, we probably would not know who the principals in this case were. There would be no reason to know the names of the judge or attorneys or witnesses or others, if we were not a nation divided along a color line cut so deeply into our own racist, yet mixed race flesh. 

Barack Obama:
"We Are One People 
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Americans did not think racial divide was beyond repair when the nation elected a mixed race white and black president twice, a man who is black, even though his mother was white and the grandparents who raised him were white, a black man because, when you look at him, he looks like a black man.

Depending on how the genetic cards fall, a mixed race person does not have to look mixed race to be mixed race.

In this country, a black person rarely gets to choose sides. If we look black or can be demonstrated as being black, we are black. Historically, the one drop rule classified people as black if African heritage could be demonstrated in their bloodline, no matter how minute the drop and even when they did not look black. Looking like a black person and being treated like a black man, he or she must accept the fact that he or she is a black person. The U.S. Census has recently begun allowing Racially Mixed People in America (Google Affiliate Ad) to declare their racial identity by providing multiple racial choices on Census documents. However, surveys show that mixed raced persons are still considered and treated as black if any feature can be detected in them by the observer.

From the moment President Obama entered public service, he seemed to take on the responsibility of trying to promote unity, healing and equality as demonstrated in We Are One People. Maybe the president assumed this role because understands better than most the layered fabric of the nation's ethnicity and race under the flag of one nation. The death of Trayvon Martin and the George Zimmerman verdict leave us wondering: 

Are we really one people? 
Have we ever been one people? 
Can we ever be one people?

George Zimmerman's Family
First Broadcast on CNN
Standing: Grandmother
Sitting: Great Grandfather
The Zimmerman verdict gives a divided nation an excuse to indulge itself in some very deep and old racial wounds that have roots in slavery and Jim Crow laws. People want to blame someone for all that miserable history that seems to keep rearing its head, even if the someone they are blaming is as non-white as they are and even if their great grandfather looks like he could be their own great grandfather.

Can these mixed race black people really be white?

Race relations in America is a complicated issue upon which the first African American President of the United States must tread carefully, as not to be aligned too closely with one ethnic group over others and, thereby, be accused of favoritism for some and not others. This may seem an unfair burden for a black president, considering that some presidents in the past favored one race over all others. That was during a time when there were clearly defined races and not the mixed race ethnic entanglement that many families today are free to embrace. 

Yesterday's Jim Crow laws outlawed, but did not stop, sexual relationships between mixed race couples, declared all offspring of those mixed race relationships as illegitimate and prosecuted offenders to discourage the practice of miscegenation. During slavery and into the 20th Century, many mixed race relationships were not mutually welcome. Rape and lynching were part of that legacy of slavery and became an integral part of the legal battles of Rosa Parks (Google Affiliate Ad), Sojourner Truth (Google Affiliate Ad) and Ida B. Wells (Google Affiliate Ad) in a century-long movement (1850s-1950s) against Jim Crow laws that allowed rape and lynching of black women and girls. Laws outlawing mixed race marriages stayed on the books until the case, Loving v Virginia, reached the U.S. Supreme Court in 1967.

This is the setting of the American legacy against which the death of Trayvon Martin and the George Zimmerman verdict are set and the reasoning behind President Obama's statements regarding the matter.

Custom Search your questions.

President Obama treads a racial divide. 

When addressing the nation about the death of Trayvon Martin and the George Zimmerman verdict, I believe the president did so in an effort to comfort the nation, in the hope of fostering understanding and in the desire to keep the peace in a divided nation, a nation he inherited from generations of presidents before him, going all the way back to the Founding Fathers. This latest speech on race is not this president's first speech on race relations and may not even be his last in a divided nation.

President Barack Obama Speaks on Race:The Trayvon Martin death and George Zimmermam verdict

When I was a little girl, my mother used to say,  "We are so mixed up as a country, everybody hates everybody and they don't even know why." 

I had no idea what my mother meant at the time. As I have grown older, I can see the wisdom in her words. Today, mixed race is also called racial ambiguity. My mother is part Comanche through her mother, Bigmama, whom I write about because she intrigues me so. On her father's side, my mother is part Kiowa. The Comanche and Kiowa were violent, feared and hated Amerindian partners on the Western Frontier. It was safer to be black than Indian, Bigmama told me. There were whole bands of prairie people, as she called her Native American relatives, that disappeared among African Americans. There were no viable laws against shooting Native Americans and there was no need for a reason so they vanished in plain sight, Bigmama said. The mixture of the bloodlines of Amerindians and African Americans made the children of these unions neither race.

"People do not always care who they are mistreating," my mother said. "They can't tell who is staring them in the face like a mirror. They see what they want to see. And that's what you become to them. Act in a certain way and become regarded in that way, whatever that way may be."

Littie Nash
Littie Nash
Littie Nash was one of the great thinkers and also possessed elevated written and verbal communication skills. She wanted me to be a thinker, too, and make more of my life than she had been allowed to make of hers, although she managed, through school later in her life, to become a credentialed nutritionist and award-winning baker. 

My mother did not waste compliments on me. She reserved accolades to celebrate real accomplishments, not just because I dragged my lazy butt out of bed before noon on Saturday or because I made an 'A' on my report card. "Some things you have to do," she said. "And those things are recognized, but there will be no all-day hullabaloo."

It took a great deal of courage and imagination during the era of Jim Crow laws for my mother to give me what she thought I needed. Jobs for African Americans were scarce and good jobs were mostly nonexistent for members of our community. Black women were mostly relegated to domestic work and publicly disrespected on a routine basis, as demonstrated by Rosa Parks and the Montgomery Bus Boycott. Black men were economically and politically marginalized as well. My father had his little ranch to insulate him against some discrimination, but certainly not all.

Sunny Nash, Age 16
My mother demanded a certain behavior from me and that behavior included language use, carriage, attire, and how I spend my time and with whom I associated. "If you present yourself in a certain way," she said, "People perceive you in a certain way, good or bad. If you hang around certain types of people, you are regarded in the same way as those people."

To support me, my mother and father sponsored piano, ballet, tennis and swimming lessons, dance performances, recitals, literary and classical music club memberships, summer camps, school trips and science fair exhibits, still managing to squeeze out of our tight budget money for the dentist to install braces on my teeth and put contact lenses in my eyes when I was fourteen. Sometimes, I wonder how I would have made in a different family that would have let me stumble around half blind with crooked teeth and "emasculating the King's English," as my mother used to say. "I have not gone through all this Jim Crow crap in my life to raise up a fool who does not know how to carry herself."

Read more about my mother in my blog post: Great Mothering in Jim Crow's World. Also check out another of my blog posts about the significance my mother placed on a college education. She believed that ignorance was an illness that could only be cured by learning. "People can learn on their own if they know how to read," she said often. "You do not have to go to college to learn and become educated. But education may help you get a better job." Read: College Education Was my Mothers Plan.

I am not so naive that I think people do not have to choose sides, but sometimes your side was chosen for you, maybe even before you were born. 

I have a dear friend in his eighties. To look at us, we could not be more different. I can't remember how the subject came up, but one day when we were having coffee, he told me he was not ashamed of being glad he was born as a white man. "I can't see how I would have made it as a black men," he said. "I know I would have somehow; they do make it, somehow. I can't imagine being a white woman; they had it hard in the old days, couldn't vote or have too much say-so over their lives. And I sure as hell couldn't have made it as you!" 

I told him, "I sure as hell wouldn't want to be you, either, but I would have done what I could with it."

"I'm sure you would have," he said. "But I respect you more for doing all that you have being you. Being me was a breeze, compared to what I imagine it was like being you."

We were trying to get into a skin different from the one into which we were born. And when we decided we couldn't actually exchange places in any meaningful way, we were still friends, drank our coffee, hugged at the door and went our separate ways home. I love that man, not because he's white, not because he's black, but because he is real. 

  • Why does society make us choose sides? 
  • What side do you take? 

That's how we the people have divided and subdivided and subdivided ourselves again over the centuries of our existence. In my own group of relatives, there are divisions by complexion, hair, features, size, body shape, whatever we can find to draw lines between ourselves. Now, if our families are divided, how can society not be? 

I'd like to tell you this little story:
I knew an Italian family when I was growing up. They owned a store in our neighborhood and lived in back of the store. There were three children in the family. The youngest, a boy, was about my age. He was not allowed to play with the black kids very often. That was all right. We kids knew why. 

When I was five or six, my grandmother started sending me to the store to get a loaf of bread or something while she watched dinner on the stove. When I got a little older, I'd hang around and talk to the storekeeper, asking him a million questions until another customer came in or he told me to get along home. Sometimes. om my way out of the store, I saw his youngest son watching and listening through the screen just outside the door to the store. 

One day, when I was in the store for a stick of butter or something, the storekeeper and I got to talking about his arrival into this country. I must have asked him about his accent or something. He told me that when he and his brother got off of the boat and went into a holding area, he was separated from his brother. 

"What? I asked.

"I'm dark-skinned and my brother is light or at least he was back then."

I inspected the storekeeper, who I considered to be sort of white, I thought, not as white as some people I'd seen, but white enough.

 "The authorities tried to mark my papers with a 'C', he said.


"I told them no! Don't do that to me!"

"Why did they want to mark you with a 'C?'"

"Everybody knows 'C' stands for colored. It was going to be hard enough for me to be dark in this country, let alone have my paper stamped with a 'C.' That would classify me as a Negro!"

A little offended, I stepped back from the counter, but I didn't say anything.

"If I had let them do that to me, my children wouldn't be any better than you."

Then I knew I had interpreted the offense correctly and so had he. The storekeeper's eyes went almost teary as he looked at me sadly. So much information passed between us.

 "I'm sorry," he said. 

After that, I didn't hang around in the store anymore, and we didn't talk, except when he waited on me and took my money at the counter. We both understood the change. A couple of years later, after his youngest son started to pour his unwanted attention me, they moved to a brand new pink brick house on the outskirts of town. The time had come for the racial divide...and life went on.

Custom Search your questions on immigration.

Bigmama Didn't Shop  At Woolworth's by Sunny Nash
Bigmama Didn't Shop 
At Woolworth's
by Sunny Nash
Sunny Nash Selected News Releases
Sunny Nash
Selected News Releases
Sunny Nash, a leading author on U.S. race relations, is author of Bigmama Didn't Shop at Woolworth's, which began when Nash was writing syndicated newspaper columns for Hearst and Knight-Ridder newspapers.

Stories came from her childhood during the era of Jim Crow laws with her part-Comanche grandmother, Bigmama, during the Civil Rights Movement.  

Robin Fruble of Southern California said, "Every white person in America should read this book! Sunny Nash writes the story of her childhood without preaching or ranting but she made me realize for the first time just how much skin color changes how one experiences the world. But if your skin color is brown, it matters a great deal to a great number of people. I needed to learn that. Sunny Nash is a great teacher," Fruble said.

Bigmama Didn't Shop at Woolworth's is recognized by the Association of American University Presses for its value to the understanding of U.S. race relations and recommended for Native American collections by the Miami-Dade Public Library System in Florida. 

© 2013 Sunny Nash. All Rights Reserved Worldwide.


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