If the George Zimmerman Trial has been good for anything (and I use the term “good” loosely), it has been stirring up the conversation of race – and bringing it back to the forefront of societal politics. Some would argue that the conversation has never really changed, and that race has always been a prevalent theme. In every community there are a fraction of citizens who ignore it – aware of the sensitive nature and the emotions that it inflames. Still there are others who take it head on; those who believe than an open and honest conversation is the best way to remove the negative power from an always powerful subject.
In the days following the trial Rev. Jesse Jackson has suggested that his Rainbow PUSH Coalition should consider boycotting the state of Florida as a “kind of apartheid state.” Apartheid can be defined as a system or policy which is based on segregation or discrimination, which Rev. Jackson connects to Florida based on the “Not Guilty” verdict in the George Zimmerman case. Likewise Rev. Al Sharpton has organized rallies in support of Trayvon Martin, and has also been vocal regarding his empathy for the Martin family as they have dealt with their loss.
On the opposite end of the argument, politically conservative shock jock Rush Limbaugh has come out stating “I am done with white guilt.” According to Mr. Limbaugh, “It’s time for all this white guilt to end.”
He continued. “If any race of people should not have guilt about slavery, it’s Caucasians. The white race has probably had fewer slaves and for a briefer period of time than any other in the history of the world.”
My intention is not to take a side or point out who amongst these three are correct. Their statements are merely a tee with which to drive my own opinion – the opinion that where race is concerned, we should just let it breathe.
Now, as a Puerto Rican / American I have certainly dealt with racism on a personal level. In high school I had a crush on a girl who agreed to let me take her out on a date. When I went to pick her up she was still getting ready. Her father, asking to speak with me, walked me downstairs. When we got to the basement he turned on the light revealing a room full of guns. He then picked up a rifle and showed me that it was loaded stating, “Joe, I want you to know that while I appreciate you inviting my daughter out tonight, I don’t exactly feel comfortable with it.”
Then, in what I assume was his attempt at subtlety, he continued, “What would you consider yourself Joe? Are you some sort of Hispanic? Mexican? Cuban?” I told him that my father was from Puerto Rico and he continued, “I see. Well, that doesn’t matter. My original point was that my daughter’s just not ready to date, and I need you to leave.” Shortly after I did just that.
Last year I was crossing the street to pay my electric bill when a car sped past with their windows rolled down hollering, “Get out of the way spic!” Spic is a racially negative statement intended for Spanish-speaking people or people of Mexican, South American, or Caribbean backgrounds.
For the record, while my father was born in Puerto Rico, my mother is Caucasian. My point is that I am only half Puerto Rican; only half non-white, and yet I have still encountered these situations. Fortunately the way that my mind is wired I am able to put things quickly into perspective. There are hateful people amongst us. There are ignorant people amongst us as well. And yet, no law established by any government will change the misconceptions, improper upbringings, vocal abuses, or hidden thoughts of any individual.
So what do we do? Some say that we should celebrate our differences, and that only talking about those differences will bring reconciliation. Others think it’s time to remove it from the conversation – at least politically.
I think, even after having experienced racism in my own life, that we should quit the conversation altogether. Race, to me, is irrelevant.
I often hear people say, “I’m a proud African-American” or “I’m a proud Mexican-American.” I’m certain that at some point in high school I claimed to be a “Proud Puerto Rican.” But my opinion has since changed. Now I wonder why it matters at all. Why be proud of something that you can’t control? I didn’t earn my ethnicity. I was born into it.
I am now proud to be a parent to two beautiful children. I am proud to have earned the love of a woman who I love in return – and am proud that I actively make the choice to continue my pursuit of that love daily.
I am proud that in 2012 I ran a solid campaign in my pursuit of Indiana’s 2nd District Congressional Seat. I am proud that I earned over three thousand votes from Hoosiers who agreed with me on the issues, and I am proud that I understand the issues well enough to earn said votes.
What are you proud of? Is it beyond the shallow depths of our skin? Have you earned or created something of value to you? Because those (in my opinion) are the things that we should take pride in. With regard to race, let’s take the hipster stance of “I’m over it.”
Whether you’re Al Sharpton, Jessie Jackson, Rush Limbaugh, Jamie Foxx, Ricky Martin, Brad Paisley or Ken Jeong, just forget about it.
As individuals we are the culmination of the things that we accomplish and the legacy that we leave behind. From the moment that we are able to consider it, that should be the primary responsibility that we are all commissioned with (setting aside religious beliefs such as The Great Commission).
Until we stop leaning in the shadows of such shallow points of contention, society refuses to evolve. So put down the distractions!
Why should a tragedy that in so many other instances would have been a story on your local news become a racially narrated national event? Why should it acquire such ratings? Well, because we let it. And that is ultimately the root of the problem.
We (as people, regardless of race) need to position ourselves as being individuals who are driven by what we’ll leave behind, who are devoted more to our own actions than we are to the words and actions of our neighbors.
We need to stop considering the age-old questions of race – choosing to grow past it, because we can be so much more than the resistance our eyes meet when they encounter the surface. We can be people who live and grow amongst other people. And while there will always be those on the fringe whose minds aren’t complex enough to see past the cosmetics of life, the majority of us should choose to rise above it.
In the future, when our media finds a race motivated trial going on anywhere in our nation, they should say “Nobody would ever watch it. The people just aren’t interested in this kind of stuff.” Rather than impassioned disagreements via social media and discussion forums, that should be the reaction. And that should be where it ends.
In 2013, let’s draw the line and lay to rest those debates of old. If I choose to ignore irritable fathers and their impressive shotgun collections or hateful rhetoric being shouted from the back seat of a sedan in exchange for my level of knowledge, love, and progress, why can’t we all make an active decision to do the same?