I heard today, for the first time in far too long, the words of a wonderfully “presidential” Barrack Obama. I heard a man explain in a way I hope most people can now, finally, understand, why African-Americans have been reacting so negatively to the Zimmerman verdict. He acknowledged that the verdict was reached after the jurors heard testimony and determined that Zimmerman could not, “beyond a reasonable doubt,” be found guilty of murder or manslaughter of Trayvon Martin.
What I found most compelling about President Obama’s words today was their delivery; it seemed to me that he really spoke from the heart. He expressed how it feels, emotionally, when people react in fear to one’s very presence due to one’s color. He expressed how it feels when the assumptions about a person’s motives are based in fear.
I remain convinced that the decision in the Zimmerman case was right. I am no longer quite as certain as I was just a few days ago that Zimmerman was a racist; I’ve seen and heard too much evidence that suggests he was not. I have not changed my opinions about Martin, as I think his reactions to a truly unfortunate and awfully stereotypical response in the person of Zimmerman may have caused him to react in the “wrong” way to a person who he perceived as attacking him. In Martin’s eyes, that “attack” may well have been just another incident of “reacting to Black.”
What I saw and heard in the President’s words today were what I hope may be the beginning of an effort on the part of our society to acknowledge pain and injustice and respond with understanding and appreciation…and not hatred and bigotry.
I doubt anyone who has not personally experienced what President Obama talked about today can really feel it in his or her bones. I can’t. But maybe, just maybe, I have just a little better idea of what it may be like to be the victim of stereotype. Hearing it articulated in a way that made it personal made me think a bit more deeply about my own biases and the way I react to people.
Our behaviors were learned. They can be unlearned.