June and July have been watershed months.
The day of my birthday, June 24th, the Supreme Court heard Abigail Noel Fisher v. University of Texas at Austin where a court ruled in favor (7-1) to vacate (annul) and remand (to send back to a lower court for further consideration) the affirmative action admissions policies of the university to increase/encourage diversity.
One day after my birthday the Supreme Court gave me a belated gift by striking down a crucial piece (Section 4) of the 1965 Voting Rights Act.
Shortly thereafter the transcript of Paula Deen's deposition leaked to the media in which she admitted to using the N-word and planning a "Southern-style" wedding where middle aged black men and women were to be dressed as slaves to highlight an era in American history of black servitude.
On Thursday, July 18th, Rick Perry passed the most restrictive abortion laws to date in Texas. This bill bans abortions for women who are more than 20 weeks pregnant. Opponents to the bill point out that only five facilities (out of the existing 42) are currently in compliance with the new regulations. The other 37 would be discontinued.
With all things considered nothing prepared me for the decision in the Trayvon Martin case. Not because I hadn't expected the "Not Guilty" verdict, but precisely the opposite. I'm not angry, appalled, outraged or infuriated. I'm numb.
I thought "The Decision" would forever remind me of LeBron taking his talents to Florida, but instead it will forever be a stinging reminder of the day Florida took something from me.
These events are of particular interest because at the heart of these matters lie the challenge of society to cope with and speak to the complexity of our diversity. In Justice Clarence Thomas' dissent of the Voting Rights Act he wrote:
"Today, our Nation has changed. The conditions that originally justified (section 5 of the Voting Rights Act) no longer characterize voting in the covered jurisdictions. Voter turnout and registration rates now approach parity. Blatantly discriminatory evasions of federal decrees are rare. And minority candidates hold offices at unprecedented levels."
When Paula Deen went on the Today Show with Matt Lauer she spoke extensively on the equality of all men and women regardless of race, sexual orientation or class. Many anti-abortion activists praised the efforts of Rick Perry to defend human dignity and support the health of Texas women. And Mr. Zimmerman denied any implications of racial profiling due to the fact that he himself is of mixed heritage.
Something isn't adding up.
Processing these events reminded me of an encounter I had with a former employer during a one-year review. The majority of the meeting was standard. Like most reviews there were positives, critiques and comments about my performance. Before the conclusion I was asked did I have any concerns (*pregnant sigh*) ... I told my boss that I felt he had issues with men of color. As a result the past terminations were all African-American men. You would've thought I smacked his momma with a flip phone the way his face changed from ocher to auburn. Subsequently, he accused me of calling him a racist. For the next 30-something minutes I listened how his organization services children of color in disenfranchised communities, how he had employed minorities and how he dedicated his life to serving underprivileged people. I let him rant and wax philosophic until he felt he had proven his point. My response was simple: "What makes you think you CAN'T have issues with men of color when I... who happens to be African-American, have issues with us?"
He sat in silence.
I explained how a few days earlier two African-American men in my neighborhood followed me until I got near my home. Did I stop and ask them if they needed directions somewhere? Did I challenge my personal stereotypes that black men in hoodies aren't suspicious and up to no good? Absolutely not! I bobbed and weaved from street to sidewalk until I got home. It then dawned on me that maybe those two gentlemen lived in my neighborhood and they too were headed home.
Herein lies the difficulty of our modern day dilemma. We have become so fixated on NOT BEING racist that we completely dismiss any notion that we may in fact have personal biases that inform our decisions on a daily basis. Perhaps we've reached the point where the word racist is too much of a hot button for people. The word racist is associated with Klan members, refusing to let little children of color enter a school or ripping students from a lunch counter.
New times call for new terms. I submit that WE ALL have undisclosed biases that color our perception.
A few years ago ABC filmed a social experiment where they placed three different actors in a park all with the same intent to steal a bike in plain view of passersby. The responses run the gambit from accessory to robbery to citizens arrest. The results are either astounding or typical depending on your perspective. The question is: Are the people in the video racist?
Perhaps we embrace the post-racial nomenclature because it implies an idealism that is future-forward. The danger in prematurely coining our nation a post-racial society is that we refuse ourselves the opportunity to deconstruct the divisive psychological mechanisms which took centuries to develop.
Dismissing our predispositions on race, class and gender have created the illusion of equality and this is doubly disastrous because we also tear away at the very safeguards that have been instrumental towards progress.
When a jury of your peers consists of any homogenous group you run the risk of reinforcing preconceived notions, NOT challenging them. The problem is not necessarily the laws that exist but that these laws are interpreted, enforced and executed by a system that is disproportionately partial towards one group over another.
Millions of African-Americans watched this trial in hopes that the justice system would take these factors in consideration. However, the verdict reiterated to many that our lives are less than nothing... they are non-existent! This sends the message that you can kill us on Thursday, go to trial Friday through Sunday and be back to work on Monday as if nothing ever happened.
How does a respectable family counsel their young and teach them to respect a system that behaves in this way? Even still, how do broken/non-nuclear families rationalize these gross inadequacies to impressionable minds that are constantly reminded of their worth by the media, the communities they live in and schools they attend? Cornel West in his book Race Matters articulates this phenomenon as the threat of nihilism in the African-American community. Black on black homicide rates in major urban hubs around the country point to a cyclopean disregard for human life. This does not imply that the causes which contribute to violence in the Black community can be enumerated (nor agreed upon), but it does suggest that these variables are real and their effects are crystal clear.
Dr. King's I Have a Dream speech is indelibly etched onto our Nation's conscience as a moment of great possibility and promise, however few have delved into King's later writings where he issues warnings against the social complacency that can set in as a result due to the chimera of progress. In his book Where Do We Go From Here: Chaos or Community? King states:
"Among the moral imperatives of our time, we are challenged to work all over the world with unshakable determination to wipe out the last vestiges of (injustice). If Western civilization does not now respond constructively to the challenge to banish (our personal prejudices), some future historian will have to say that a great civilization died because it lacked the soul and commitment to make justice a reality for all (mankind)."
If we, as a Nation, are to continue to perfect this Union for next generations, engaging in open, honest discourse about our biases when they surface is paramount. Denial, dismissive, dispassionate and derisive behavior will only reproduce the disharmony and discrimination we are witnessing and mistakenly deem them as random occurrences.