Monday, July 22, 2013

If The Doors Of Perception Were Cleansed...

... everything would appear to man as it is - infinite.” 
William Blake                                       

My intent was not to write about Trayvon Martin again. I thought the discussion needed to taking place between people, and there was no point in writing anything further on the subject. President Obama changed that when, on Friday, he spoke so eloquently on this reality of being black in America. 

In response to a NY Times editorial, President Obama's Anguish, I wrote:

The truth of the matter is all We, the People, whether black or white, red or yellow, green or purple with pink polka dots, profile. We do it in our heads every time we see a kid in a hoodie, or with baggy-saggy pants, or even with cap turned backwards. We have been programmed by the media to fear those images. Watch enough LAW AND ORDER or CSI: Whatever, and, most of all, the news...and those are the images we are taught to fear.

If you say, "Oh, no, I don't do that," you're lying through your teeth. It's human nature.

I am one of those white women who, in downtown parking ramps, clutches her purse a little tighter when a couple of black teenagers get on the elevator with her. But then again…a black teenager tried to mug me…in Chicago. (He didn’t realize he was trying to mug a New Yorker, okay?) The truth is, whether or not you’ve been mugged, you profile. We all do it.  We do it to black kids. We do it to people who look Arab or Asian. We do it to our neighbors, and even to our co-workers. 

It’s human nature to make snap judgments. Grok that concept first. 

The President was spot on when he talked about his own experiences as a young black man. He talked about the reality of it:

And the fact that a lot of African American boys are painted with a broad brush and the excuse is given, well, there are these statistics out there that show that African American boys are more violent -- using that as an excuse to then see sons treated differently causes pain.

I think the African American community is also not naïve in understanding that, statistically, somebody like Trayvon Martin was statistically more likely to be shot by a peer than he was by somebody else.  So folks understand the challenges that exist for African American boys. 
President Obama’s remarks
July 19th, 2013

Just imagine this kid
in a hoodie
It’s about packaging. It’s about what we see with our eyes and in our brains. It’s how we process the information. It’s how we learn to protect ourselves. But…are We, the People, in danger of condemning an entire population based on appearance? 

If you pay attention to the George Zimmermans of the country, the answer is very much yes. Had we been there, peering out our window and seeing a black kid wearing a hoodie pulled over his head, can you say you wouldn’t have immediately wondered what he was doing there? What if he was wearing a khakis and crisp button-down shirt? Is the response any different?

The other question must be asked: how much of this reaction is owned by young black men who dress, sign, and present themselves in an intentionally dangerous manner even when they’re not gang-bangers? How much of the package is for show, and how much is real? And how is the casual observer supposed interpret the message? And how should one respond?

Used to be people wore "colors" to identify with their school. I still have and occasionally wear a Pirate sweatshirt in Minnesota …and people have stopped me, incredulous that they’re seeing someone who actually went to Wellington C. Mepham High School. Gangs are no different. It's a club. There are colors and symbols. Kids think this is cool and emulate the look.  But how do you tell the real gangbangers from the wannabes?

We all train our kids to be street-aware, to be alert in parking ramps, and not to walk alone in areas that are known for criminal activity. Here in the Twin Cities, we know not to run along certain paths because in recent weeks random groups of young men have been attacking single runners and beating them senseless before robbing them. How do you not be suspicious in those situations? How do you not profile when descriptions of the antagonists are all over the media?

This is where the conversation begins. It’s not easy to talk to yourself about this stuff, but you have to. If you’re white, the examination must bluntly address perceptional prejudice. If you’re black, that conversation has to include the scary factor and the concept of perception. How we each read the message that is sent is very much at the center of the internal...and ultimately the external conversation. 

It’s time to have those internal conversations, folks. In fact, it’s past time We, ALL the People, had ‘em.

The Wifely Person's Tip o'the Week
Shopping for alarm systems> There are people who actively want your business and 
then there's ADT who, after 24 years, is not interested in keeping mine. 

The Wifely Person's Bonus Observation o'the Week
First the freezer...and now the house security system.
Considering this week's blog, that's just a touch .....weird.

PostScript: So I went upstairs to the lady's room and lo! the float valve in the toilet snapped. No problem; I had a spare fill-valve thingee on hand, so no sweat. Changed it right out. Toilet works great.....but now, freakin' water shut off valve is leaking. Spartacus is NOT happy.


  1. Interestingly I think President Obama was elected to be there this time to reflect on his life as a black man to answer for the wrong judgments of people like Zimmerman. You are so right that we are all "schooled" by the media to fear what we don't know. It's what they make their living doing and it flavors how we see each other. Something has to change and I wonder if it ever will.

    1. Of course, Obama is hardly a product of the fatherless, hopeless neighborhoods of grandmas raising granddaughters that the problem kids come from. His college-educated atheist white boundary-breaking mother, her Kansas parents, high-class schooling at Punahe prep school, and his learned transnational cultural relativism, NONE of these are available to the average drop-trou ghetto youth.

      They're supposed to strive upwards on broken promises and police brutality. If Obama had come from the mean streets of a majority minority city like Oakland or Detroit, I don't think he'd be president. He'd likely be dead or in prison.

  2. Thank you for your honesty and your observations. I, too, judge all the time. As a human, we are hard-wired to make judgments in order to survive. Practicing mindful meditation is one way to deal with perceived reality and what is.

  3. We’re talking about a trial that took place — nobody denies that due process occurred. Nobody denies that the outcome was the result of some kind of manipulation of the court system. The jury found Zimmerman not guilty. That’s the end of it. For the president of the United States to get behind the microphone almost a week later, to stoke what he believes, what he hopes, to pile on with Sharpton, pile on with all of them, is outrageous. Out of one side of his mouth for 90 percent of his talk, he’s going on and on about this. And out of the other side of his mouth, he’s talking about, you know, ‘We made great progress.’ We haven’t made any great progress during this administration. What progress have we made under this administration? In fact we’re regressing under this administration. The black community is suffering more than it suffered under George W. Bush given the economic situation.
    We have a president who is balkanizing the nation, as is his cabinet. This wasn’t about Barack Obama. This was a trial in a courtroom in Florida. And now the question is going to be, ‘What did you think about what Obama said? It was good. It was bad.’ So suddenly it’s about Obama. Obama had been Franklin Roosevelt. He’s been Abraham Lincoln. He’s been Ronald Reagan. And now he’s been Trayvon Martin. But he’s none of them. He didn’t live like Trayvon Martin, nor is he any of those three presidents. This president could have been a great president — policies aside — by his temperament, by what he said, by his respect for the American people. This president could have been a man that could have been admired. Instead, he is what he is.


    1. Doug,
      We all "are what we are." President Obama is a black man. You believe it is unfortunate that the President would attempt to spur a larger conversation on a key issue for our country - race. What's sad is that he has been attacked ruthlessly for saying that he understands why the black community feels the way it does. As a white man from a middle class family, I have limited experience walking in the shoes of a black man. And in case you haven't noticed, modern media doesn't have a lot of examples of my black middle class counterpart from which I could at least get an idea of that experience. So, the President tried to pass along some knowledge - he was a professor and, well, he's the damn President. Just because you don't like the message doesn't mean it's not leadership.
      One more thing, don't blame the entire plight of minorities on President Obama. He's not the one cutting food stamps, changing voting restrictions, and redistricting. He has tried for 4.5 years to walk a fine line between being a President who is black and being the BLACK President. He's tried to pick his spots. He picked this one. I for one don't think it was a bad choice.

  4. President Obama is there to reflect on and answer for wrong judgements??

    -I have to say, that statement scares me. It should you, too.


  5. I knew your "voice" sounded familiar - I want to Sanford H. Calhoun High School.

  6. Dear Susan,
    As usual you have given us important ideas to think about.

    Thank you, Lorraine