March 28, 2012 by Kyle
This is a teachable moment. What can the death of a 17 year old African American boy teach us about our society? I am not a sociologist, but I’ve observed reactions and I have responded in ways that seem almost cathartic. Free people respond to what they see as injustice—it’s what we do as Americans. There are many in African American communities who have responded by marching in the streets, making T-Shirts, posting on Facebook, blogs, and Twitter. No doubt there are members of the Anglo community who are sympathetic to the expressions of grief and indignation. I also know that there are members of the Anglo community who watch with contempt as hooded Africans American march as if there has not been any progress since the 1960’s. I’ve heard statements like, “you have a black president what more do you want?” or “why does it always have to be about race?” Yes, those blacks are always thinking about race.
The topic of race is omnipresent—always beckoning for meaning and clarification. For me and most Blacks, the issue of race shows up in the form of internal and external questions related to politics, career, faith, and life in general. In other words, there are few places for the visibly sub-dominant members of a society to assimilate into the dominant culture without significant emotional suppression. There are few safe places where the dominant culture has no obvious influence to alter the cultural patterns of sub-dominant cultures. One such safe place for African Americans is church, but that’s another blog post. I tend to think we think about the topic of race more than we’d like to admit. There are many who reject the notion that race plays any part in the social strata within society, but invariably the observable evidence says otherwise.[i]
We attempt to ignore our visceral reactions at the sight of the black, brown, yellow or white faces, but our emotional meters are sensitized to respond to someone who looks different. It is my estimation that if we say that race and color doesn’t matter, this in itself makes the problem even worse.[ii] The very important conversation on race cannot happen without at least an admission that it, race in America, does matter. The simple truth is that color matters in the African American context. There are issues within the African American community that go back to slavery and exist between children fathered by White slave owners with Black slaves and those fathered by male and female Black slaves. This in particular is a known problem that we’ve dealt with in Black social settings. We must entertain the notion that the powerful and privileged make decisions about race every day–it is inevitable. It is also not outlandish to believe that those who are outside of the privileged class make decisions about race everyday—members of the racial underclass must make decisions pertaining to race everyday for the sake of survival. This is why there is no other option but to march and rally when Blacks see injustice—our life and the life of all who look like us depend on it.
[i] http://www.apa.org/monitor/2009/02/microaggression.aspx Unmasking Racial Microaggressions
[ii] My point here is that we have all been socialized to see race—it has been so ingrained into our psyche that we can’t help but see another’s persons color and wonder what they have done and or will do. It is my contention based on well as that of others in various disciplines that racialization is a reality. For a reference on this topic please see; Burgalet, Claudio M., and S. J. Burgaleta. 1999. Jose De Acosta, S.J. (1540-1600): His Life and Thought. Loyola Press. In this work one sees the beginnings of racial categories perpetrated by a Jesuit Priest during his time in Peru. My introduction to this material was by way of J. Kameron Carter and the following video (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vBt87j4dQPw)