On Experiencing Blackness

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.

About John Swinburn

"Love not what you are but what you may become."― Miguel de Cervantes
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9 Responses to On Experiencing Blackness

  1. Yeah, anyone who has a reasonable expectation of finding themselves in the middle of a “watchman” interaction should have a plan to avoid confrontation. That scene is powerful, indeed.

  2. jserolf says:

    I don’t care much about the history of “Stand Your Ground.” What I think is that Zimmerman could have avoided the situation, but we just don’t know. That should be in the plan of anyone who acts as some sort of “watchman” – at least from this point forward.

    I love this scene from Deliverance, maybe applicable:


  3. jserolf says:

    I love your space. I’ve been looking it over since the semester ended. You’ve built a fine site here, John. Your thoughts instigate thinking, too. No doubt, I will be a regular.

  4. Juan, what I find is that the more I think about the combustion between Zimmerman and Martin, the more I can see as plausible virtually any motive, anything that could have sparked the interchange. There could be racism, fear (itself a core component of racism), anger, and simple miscommunication, among others. For me, the bottom line is that Martin didn’t have to die; it could have been avoided. But, again, I wasn’t there. I don’t know.

    I came across an interesting article just a while a go that you may find of interest:


    It supports the comments your friend, WLH, made about the history of “stand your ground.” For me, the history helps explain the laws, but they don’t justify them. I think the laws should be changed. People should be able to protect themselves with force, if necessary, but should first be required to use flight as the best option before killing someone. And it may be that Zimmerman tried. We won’t know.

    It looks like my “fix” didn’t really address the limitations on your being able to post longer comments. Not sure what to do about that, but I’ll try again.

  5. jserolf says:

    Part V

    Maybe, not really about racism.

    Understandably, blacks are outraged; they have to keep the fire lit, as we are not that far from the era of Jim Crow, nor for that matter are we so far from the Nazi genocide of Jews, steeped in racial-purity propaganda.

    They complain to keep the fire lit! We cannot forget.

  6. jserolf says:

    Part IV
    And yet in another incident, an 81 year old man scolded a 9 year old child who had been jumping up and down on the top of a Dipsy dumpster. The boy cried to his Puerto Rican stepfather, and the stepfather went out to argue with the old man who was carrying a concealed 22 pistol.

    Their squabble had actually been ongoing. In his testimony, the old man said he had been accosted by the stepfather several times before, and so when the old man shot and killed him, he had done out of fear. The old man was guilty by a jury, and was given a life sentence.
    I’ve thought several times about visiting this man – dig up the story, follow it up, because I think there is a problem here.

  7. jserolf says:

    Part III
    “Of course,” people say. The kid is black, wearing a hoody, walking at night in the rain.
    If it was Florida deputy it would never had made national news, but the of “stand your ground” law was just enacted in our state. Jeb Bush wrote it, and Rick Scott signed it.

    Almost a month afterwards, a shooting took place at a carnival in my county. A similar situation, though much more public. One was drunk, the other was legally carrying a gun. The drunk tried to instigate a fight, and was shot dead. The shooter was acquitted.

  8. jserolf says:

    Part II
    “Don’t fuck around,” he said. “That’s what that law means.”
    So I walked out of the B21 thinking about what Robert said – and with an excellent Spanish Syrah (90 pts by Palmer), and wondered about people holstering handguns in public.
    So much has come out of this.

    I think of Zimmerman and Martin like characters of a tragic, Shakespearean play. In some literary fashion, the plot shows two characters, who in a fight attempt to kill each other. They wrestle and Zimmerman pulls his gun and shoots Martin once in the chest.
    Motivated by racism? I’d rather say it was incited by the intolerance of race and stereotypes. What angers blacks is that the incident mars them, in nearly the same way that a Jewish financier is arrested for working a Ponzi scheme.

  9. jserolf says:

    I am wondering now about “stand your ground.” Speaking to Robert Sprental today, an X-Navy seal, a past student of mine and a family owner of B21 Liquors.

    I said “What are your thoughts concerning Zimmerman?” I caught him off guard, because we were walking the aisles talking Spanish Syrah vs French (primarily used for Bourdeaux.

    “I support ‘stand your ground,’” he said. He was unequivocal. He told me how his grandfather was attacked at the store and tied up, but how before the thieves had left, he had untied himself and shot all four of them with a carbine.

    “That’s him up there,” he pointed to the far wall. It was the first time that I ever noticed the huge poster-like photos of his family. The store was now 3 generations.

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