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On #Trayvon. And Us.

In a nest made of a pretty little river, a dozen or so golf courses and several lakes that are best kept secrets, the place of my becoming exists. For twelve years, I lived two minutes outside of Sanford, Florida. For the twenty three years before that, I lived about thirty minutes away. 

Sanford has a quaint, little downtown where there’s a lovely library carpeted with that weird brown material that was so popular in the 80s. When Nuha started preschool, I would take Yusuf to this library for children’s programs. Sometimes, we would visit a park nearby and I would push him on a swing until it was time for a snack. Sanford is a sweet, unassuming town. It doesn’t really stand out in any real way — save the fact that it is so unremarkably unremarkable. 

It’s cute. It’s simple. It’s just… Sanford.

I got a ticket about four years ago for speeding. I elected to take the driving course so I wouldn’t have to get the points on my license. I had to go to the courthouse to pay the ticket and show my driving course certificate.  The security guards are friendly and will make jokes with you if you appear game, as I often do. The staff there is professional and courteous. The courthouse has the usual mix of the mundane and exciting that a courthouse can offer. It wasn’t really busy. It’s a nice courthouse. You probably have one like it in your town. It, like the community it serves, is generally unremarkable.

But today, Sanford is not unremarkable. 

It is spotlighted. For some, it has become the staging ground for battle. It’s become emblematic of everything that  is right or wrong about our society. It has become the place where people point and say, “See, this is what we mean when we say that the world is this way or that way…” In a short time, something I knew as unremarkable has become quite remarkable in what I think is a very unfortunate way.

I spent a lot of time on Facebook tonight. I noticed comments about riots. About dead children. About self defense and self loathing. About prayers for peace for this side or that. The new, remarkable Sanford had made what is normally my unremarkable Facebook wall a very remarkable place, too.

“Nice job, Florida.”

“Well, don’t go to Florida if you’re wearing a hoodie!”

Hey, Americans of Facebook? Violence, racism, discrimination, bias… these are not the province of the newly remarkable Sanford, Florida. This is our national problem. We own it… as a nation — no exceptions. Everyday, people in this country are deemed threatening because of their appearance, their name, or their culture. They are dirty because they are poor. They are violent because they are black. They are angry because they are Muslim. They are racist because they are white. They are deviant because they are gay. 

These ideas and words are crimes against you and me. They are not so apparent as a grown man operating within the context of some irrational application of an ill conceived law provoking a child to violence and then killing that child as reprisal. But they are crimes, nonetheless, of which we are all victims and perpetrators.

They are the crimes that divide us. They are not as quick to kill as a bullet to the chest, but they do kill. They kill slowly and their death toll is in the thousands. And they cannot be prosecuted in a court of law.

And here’s the real clincher: the perpetrators of these crimes are almost always acquitted because the jury is too sympathetic or apathetic to convict. 

You acquit. I acquit. We acquit each other when we look the other way when a remark is made about “those people” and why they are “that way.” We acquit each other when we accept the idea that “race is not an issue.”

I want to tell you all, for your own good, stop saying that. If you think race isn’t an issue, then race is most definitely an issue for you. When you pretend something does not exist, you give it power. That’s why Harry said “Voldemort” instead of “He Who Must Not Be Named.” Be Harry. You cannot destroy that which you think does not exist. You cannot heal a sickness if you refuse to believe that you are sick. You deny a sickness, though, and it only grows.

A trial in Sanford? That is, at least, some accountability. It’s a few moments when someone says, “Well, let’s try to figure out what went wrong here.” So maybe they don’t figure it out and some bogus verdict sends us all in a tizzy …just long enough so we get distracted from the many acquittals we dole out on a daily basis.

We then focus on the big remarkable event which is just really the outcome of all the acquittals we dole out in the unremarkable moments in our lives.

Someone pleaded today, “What can I do?”

I’ll tell you. 

Hold yourself accountable for the tiny ways in which you might be making this problem bigger. You’re not a racist, of course. I’m not either. But that doesn’t mean that we don’t unconsciously harbor sentiments which are so deeply ingrained with racist ideology that it is no longer visible to us. I think, too, and this is going to be controversial… we have to let go of relativism when it comes to tolerance and acceptance. Be unrelenting. Be ever vigilant. But, of course, be kind.

Look at what you believe — observe yourself, your words and your ideas in the context of humankind’s very necessary journey to a peaceful existence. Our continued existence is fully determined by our ability to take a stand in the service of our preservation.

One remarkable acquittal is enough. 

Let’s not acquit ourselves, too.

Reader Comments (26)

If there is only one thing that people read in the aftermath of the verdict, it needs to be this.

July 14, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterKymberli

I have so many feelings about this case that I can't articulate. The whole thing makes me sad....and depressed.

July 14, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterRobin

So smart. So well said.

July 14, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterJasmine

Bless you, sweet child, for these kindly convicting words. If it is to change, it must start with me, and it must start today.

July 14, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterMelissa

"Be Harry. You cannot destroy that which you think does not exist." I love this. Beautiful piece.

July 14, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterArbine

These are the times I harken back and try very hard to live the Quaker faith I personally espouse; the central tenet of which informs me that "there is 'that of God' in everyone, and our real purpose is to find 'that of God' in others no matter who they are or how separate from us they may seem to be."

It is, and ought to be, my (our) guiding modality; but that doesn't mean it isn't difficult. The idea is to find 'that of God' in people that seem opposed to me for this or that reason. Not easy. But necessary.

The more difficult it is to see 'that of God' in someone else, the more important it is to keep trying.

July 14, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterRW

"That’s why Harry said “Voldemort” instead of “He Who Must Not Be Named.” Be Harry. You cannot destroy that which you think does not exist. You cannot heal a sickness if you refuse to believe that you are sick. You deny a sickness, though, and it only grows."

Step 1.

July 14, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterAnn

Thank you for this wonderful, well-thought out, balanced post. The verdict made me seethe, but you have helped me shift my perspective. Once again, you have gone to the heart of a complicated issue and made me take stock again of how to confront and deal with racism.

Thank you.

July 14, 2013 | Unregistered Commenterslightly peeved

Very well stated. We all need to be more humanistic in our dealings with others. I feel far too many are not, which is why we have such a divide.

While I am sickened by the verdict, I am more sickened that the value of human life wasn't placed before the position of being a neighborhood watchman.

July 14, 2013 | Unregistered Commentermartymankins

You said this so much more eloquently than I did. I feel the same way. There is danger in not being able to admit our prejudices...being so afraid of what they might mean about us that instead of being open to change, we hide behind an enthusiastic "not me." I'll share this here despite how vulnerable it makes me feel...

July 14, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterSusan

So well articulated, thank you. I have reposted a couple paragraphs over on our Facebook Page, with credit to this blog,

The reactions to all of this is evidence about how confused we all really are about reality.

Thanks again,

July 14, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterEric Brown

So many amazing words. Thank you for sharing. And I thank my friends who have shared on FB so I could find you here.

July 14, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterAndrea

This is really eloquent and does a beautiful job of getting at the heart of what is so disheartening here -- not just one verdict, but a larger national culture that makes such a verdict possible and that refuses to see culpability in a much wider scope.

July 14, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterMommyTime

Brilliant. Thanks for adding a bit of rational thought and sanity!

July 14, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterTerry

Love this.

July 14, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterLisa

I've been stunned about the verdict all day. Thank you for such a wake up call on racism for us all. We all need to examine our thoughts and actions, and you've given us an eloquent perspective to consider.

July 14, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterSheryl

Amazing. Thank you for expressing these sentiments.

July 14, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterMichelle

I can't find words to express how much and in what ways I really appreciate your words on this topic. So well thought provoking, no matter what "side" you are on. Thanks for sharing

July 15, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterKali

I can't find words to express how much and in what ways I really appreciate your words on this topic. So well thought provoking, no matter what "side" you are on. Thanks for sharing

July 15, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterKali

Yes, we do own the problem of racism, discrimination, and bias as a nation. And while it starts with each of us, it is also a reflection of our leadership, of American politics around the world. While we might play a role in everyday bias, our leaders and our politics and our policies make it ok for us to do it at an individual level. There is a sense of fear of the different at every level. It might not exist everywhere in America but its there. It was always there in Sanford when we lived there and it clearly exists in Memphis right now.

July 15, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterTariq

Beautifully said.
Thank you.

July 15, 2013 | Unregistered Commentersheriji

As the first comment said, if anyone reads anything about the trial or the aftermath, anything at all. Please let it be this.

July 15, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterMind OF Mine

Thank you for sharing such a beautiful response to this trial, and thank you especially for emphasizing the importance of kindness and accountability. Of course the verdict is painful and is going to make us furious, as it should, but like you said, we can't just blame a specific state's political climate or generalize groups as being "angry", "racist", etc. and hope things will be better if we just don't live in those states or are careful to not say hateful things or whatever other half-hearted attempts we might make.

On a side note, I was really happy to see another Quaker leave a comment on here because I'm also struggling with seeing "that of God" in Zimmerman right now.

July 15, 2013 | Unregistered Commentersarah

This is a thoughtful, well-balanced post. I appreciate that you remind us to be kind. I have trouble with that. I think, and it makes me sadder still, that many of we're unsurprised if still angry about the verdict because we were well aware of the constant stream of unjust acquittals, and false and cruel incarcerations. It is time to speak up. Always has been, I guess.

July 15, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterHomemaker Man

Oh, Faiqa. I adore your heart and your mind. I miss you.

July 16, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterMiss Britt

Beautifully written and powerful! I love it.

August 24, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterJess

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