Hoodies, language, and the degradation of our humanity
I am not sure how to start this post. I have many things in my mind: the tragic death of Trayvon Martin, the irrational comments made in the media, and the lack of objective analysis on the issues. A boy, a 17 year old is dead. Shot to death for walking to his home with candy in his hand and wearing a hoodie. It is this simple. Whether or not Trayvon might have looked or acted intimidating according to some, he was still a 17 year old. Until this event looking or acting intimidating did not deserve being shot. But we have indeed crossed that line. The second fact is that the shooter was told to wait for the police to get there. He didn’t. One wonders why would this person have a gun? The media is still replaying the event and with every report a new thing is added to the story: whether or not Trayvon did a gesture with his hands, the hoodie he was wearing, his suspension from school, etc. None of which changes a simple fact: Trayvon was an underage unarmed kid walking back to his house with a candy bar who is dead for looking “intimidating.”
Until this event looking or acting intimidating did not deserve being shot. But we have indeed crossed that line.
Not long ago Newt Gingrich was on the news talking about his definition of English and Spanish. In his words, English was the language of prosperity and Spanish the language of the ghetto. I guess that makes all Spanish speaking artists, designers, professors, lawyers, poets, novelists, and plenty of other talented people ghetto. I was very upset about Gingrich’s remarks until I realized that with my indignation I was doing the same thing he was doing: thinking I was better than those in the ghetto. I was submerged in shame when I realized my pride and arrogance. It was easier to be upset with Gingrich. After all, anyone who speaks with such blatant disregard for humanity, is an easy target.
Though these two events might seem unrelated they have a common thread. The thread of hatred, disdain, and disregard. The thread of racism. It is in us. We cannot escape this ugly truth. We can dress it up, but we can’t hide our racist heart. It is human nature to mistrust, to doubt, to be suspicious, to be afraid. But it is also in our human nature to reflect and to choose kindness while being cautious if we are indeed in a precarious situation.
Many years ago I did something I am not sure I’d do today. I was driving alone at night on my way to a Saturday night vigil by the beach. I did not have cash but my gas tank was full and this was before the cell phones. In a street light there was a boy asking for a quarter to take the bus. Like I said I had no cash. I asked where was he going. It turned out where he was going was on my way. I offered him a ride. He was alone, seemed to have been gone all day from home, and he was just a boy. We talked on the way to his place. I did not mention his place could be considered the ghetto Gingrich mentioned. Once we are close he asked me to let him off. I had cars behind me so it took me a while but once I was able to get closer to the curb, I stopped. We said good bye and I offered my hand to shake his. He grabbed my hand holding on to a bracelet I had. On impulse I held his hand back too. He threatened me and told me he had a knife. I knew he didn’t otherwise he would have used it earlier. I was angry and told him how ungrateful he was. He told me to let him go or he’d call his friends. I let him go. And then I drove crying of the scare I had. Before you ask, I did not call the police. Remember, there were no cell phones?
I arrived to my event and was shaking a bit. It was in that moment I faced the choice of holding on to believing one should continue to do acts of kindness or swear off all people who looked, dressed, and talked like this boy. It was so easy to go there. My feelings had been hurt, I was in shock, my mind was racing with all kinds of thoughts, and my anger was floating inflating every single fiber of my being. My good friend Kay, held me back as he has done ever since I met him. He reminded me why we do acts of kindness. He reminded me that the worse act of injustice and betrayal was done to Christ. He was innocent but he was killed. Yet, in Him we find the kindness to go on because it matters. It matters and it makes a difference to be kind to each other because in being kind to those around, we are also being kind to Him.
I realize that there are many things in our lives and experiences that shape our behavior in one way or another. I guess all I can say is that in no way was the killing of Trayvon an act of kindness. Regardless of how Trayvon looked like or was wearing, he presented no threat to anyone’s life. Moreover, he was still a kid.