racism

Grappling.

I read this article yesterday while I was at brunch.(Ha-ha, white girl on the North Side of Chicago out to brunch, reading about Trayvon Martin. GET OVER IT.)

And I got to thinking: America’s kind of an awful place. I’m so disheartened sometimes that I don’t even know what to say.

 The 911 calls began at least eight years ago, with Mr. Zimmerman reporting on a range of non-emergencies, including the existence of potholes or someone driving slowly through the neighborhood. By late 2011, his calls were often about black youths and men, with complaints about suspicious activity or just loitering.

By the time he went on neighborhood watch patrol with his 9-millimeter pistol and spied Trayvon Martin, Mr. Zimmerman saw not a teenager with candy, but a collection of preconceptions: the black as burglar, the black as drug addict, the black “up to no good.” And he was determined not to let this one get away.

As recently as a few years ago, this case probably would not have been noticed outside Florida, which has a long and bloody history of sacrificing black lives without consequence. The country is right to focus on this case and to look for ways to prevent it from happening again.

People who are seeking to affix blame for this tragic death do need to bear one thing in mind. Gun laws that allowed a community watch volunteer to run around armed are, of course, partly responsible. But Trayvon Martin was killed by a very old idea that will likely take generations and an enormous cultural transformation to dislodge.

My family had season tickets to Kansas City Chiefs games when I was a kid. My most vivid memories of those games have nothing to do with Arrowhead Stadium; they’re of crossing Troost Avenue on 63rd Street in my grandparents’ Mercedes-Benz and watching my grandparents’ hands fly to the automatic-lock buttons. They’re of counting the number of tree-shaped air fresheners hanging from passing cars’ rearview mirrors.

Troost was our arbitrary dividing line between Kansas City’s racial no-man’s land and what I’m sure we so lovingly referred to at some point as “the ghetto.” (Which is hilarious in that completely horrifying, not-funny-at-all way now, because I don’t think I’ve come within miles of the real ghetto in Kansas City, if it even exists.)

We passed through, hopped on the highway and made our way to Arrowhead’s parking lot, locked safely behind the parking attendant’s stations, where we tailgated and then watched the game wrapped in blankets, cheering for our team and doing the tomahawk chop.

What do these memories say about me? Have these experiences shaped who I am?

Maybe in some way. But how? I read articles like the one from the Times’ Sunday Review today, and I’m ashamed because I know the author is speaking directly to people like me. I’m not racist — never. ever. EVER. — but I know I hang on to some prejudices that will be tough to shake off.

Am I part of the problem?

I didn’t hear about Trayvon Martin until days after he was shot. I read about it on Twitter and didn’t understand why it was such a big deal; I was busy being enraged about yet another fat white man in Congress trying to take away all women’s hard-fought reproductive rights. Then I read more about it. Then, it was another few days before I saw anything about it on television. Finally, a month and a half after he was shot, George Zimmerman — who’s a year younger than me, who owns a gun and thinks he can play policeman, judge, jury and God himself — was charged with second-degree murder and taken into custody. A MONTH AND A HALF LATER.

What does that say? Really. If the situation had been reversed — if Trayvon Martin had shot George Zimmerman or anyone else, for that matter — he would’ve been locked up in the blink of an eye. I’m sure of it.

How… What. I don’t know. I don't know anything.

I don’t know whether Martin was shot out of racist hatred or singled out by Zimmerman’s prejudices and caught in the crossfire of self-defense. I don’t know what happened in Sanford that night. Until they release all those 911 tapes, the autopsy report and call every possible witness from both sides, no one will know exactly what happened except for George Zimmerman. Even then, it’ll be a neighborhood watchman’s word against a dead hoodie-wearing black boy’s. Does it really matter whether it was racism or prejudice that led to this kid's death? Because he's still dead.

I picture the outcome of this case being utter horseshit. Nothing good can come of this. This will not be a “teachable moment.” Sometimes I think we’re beyond teaching. Like it will never, ever get better. And that makes me want to throw things. Or curl up in a ball and cry. Neither would make me feel better, I’m guessing. And logic has obviously worn out its welcome.

If you’re reading about the Trayvon Martin case, trying to make sense of anything at all in this ridiculous media circus, do yourself a favor: Don’t read the comments. Ever. Whether you’re reading a blog entry or an article on Fox Nation or MSNBC, just do yourself a favor and skip the comments section. Just walk away. People are horrible and hateful and violent with their words.

Is there a way to start calling people on their racist, ignorant fuckery, beyond posting to our own Facebook feeds and trolling comment sections to lob holier-than-thou word bombs into the ether? Would there be a point beyond making us feel better about ourselves, proving to the Internet we’re above it?

I don’t know. But that’s the kind of “Stand Your Ground” I can get behind.

Saturday night fervor.

I caught the last 10 minutes or so of the CNN special "Race and Rage: the Beating of Rodney King" tonight. I knew the 20th anniversary of the beating was this week; I think I found out when the tiny TV in the elevator up to the office where temping displayed the headline that Rodney King had been cited that day for driving without a valid license.

I had a little chuckle about it. "Stay classy, Rodney King," I said, under my breath, to the tiny TV and the stale elevator air.

I wasn't even 8 years old when the beating happened. And even if I had been old enough to understand, I'm sure the news outlets in Kansas City weren't giving the situation in Los Angeles much television coverage. So I lived in my little childhood bubble and missed everything: the beating, the trial, the acquittal, the riots.

As I grew older, I learned a man named Rodney King had been beaten in Los Angeles, but that's about all I knew.

Ignorance was kind of my thing for a really long time. I couldn't be curious about something completely unknown to me, and there was no one to tell me I should be curious. Or care. It's funny: We don't know what we don't know. In the way that completely not-funny things are funny. I'm still shaking off that ignorance.

The special closed with a short interview with Rodney King, a sweet — if not a bit more than star-crossed — man in his mid-40s. (He's had many run-ins with the law since he first entered the spotlight in the early '90s, from domestic disputes to substance abuse.) The interviewer asked whether he'd forgiven the policemen who beat him, and he said he had. Of course he had.

He's been given so many breaks in his life, he said, and everyone deserves a break. At least he didn't die.

And I thought…wow.

How?

For all his missteps, this is a man with a truly good heart.

Because I finally got curious tonight and skimmed the Wikipedia article about the beating, the trial, the acquittal and the riots. I watched one of the many YouTube videos of the beating. Then I watched news stories following the acquittal, where one juror said she believed the officers had used "reasonable force" that night and that Rodney King could have been spared his fate if he'd just surrendered. And I watched footage of the riots: the city engulfed in flames, citizens turned against one another, National Guardsmen in Humvees rolling in on deserted streets.

And I was enraged.

This is America.

Not was — is.

Rodney King was an idiot for flooring it when he should just have pulled over when he was caught speeding, but I have to wonder whether he'd have been flagged down at all if he'd been white.

And things like this just. keep. happening.

To people who haven't even been speeding. Or done anything wrong. Prejudice and profiling and hatred and inequality based on nothing but a simple word or two: black, immigrant, gay, female, disabled.

And so much of this stems from people with two words in common: white male. The one group of Americans that has never, ever known discrimination.

And that? Is gross.

I know this is all just coming out as ignorant white-girl ranting, because that's all it really is. I haven't studied this; I haven't really experienced it in person. (Though Fred Phelps did bring his Westboro Baptist Church congregants to protest a Barenaked Ladies concert when I was in high school. Go figure on that one.)

But even if it's not on the order of Rodney King or Matthew Shepard or George Tiller or another story that makes the evening news for days at a time, all of today's tiny injustices add up to one big mess.

The Tea Party?

They should be collectively boxed up in a dusty antique shop somewhere in the Bible Belt, but somehow they're actually out there. Gaining power. Representing everything that absolutely terrifies me about America.

That Rally to Restore Sanity? It's not just the fact that it was emceed by comedians that made it a joke. I mean, they're right: Shit's gone completely insane. But two white guys on stage with a sea of privileged white kids cheering them on is not the answer.

That being said, a riot didn't fix things back in the '90s, and it won't fix things if it happens again. I really don't know what will. But I hope I live to see it change, and I hope I'm part of it. Sitting around getting mad at the TV isn't enough — but at least it means I finally know enough to care.