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Trayvon Martin and Compound Grief

July 18, 2013 6 comments

make_trayvon_martin_heard_by_skullthefox25554-d4ufft6

For many reasons, the Trayvon Martin/George Zimmerman tragedy and trial has been on my mind and heart.  There has been much written and said, from a broad spectrum of our society.  But for me personally, what’s been on my heart more than who’s right, who’s wrong, what actually happened, and stuff like that is the strong emotional reactions from people.  Above all, that’s what this post is about.  But, before I get going, there are a few disclosures I would like to make that give a broader context into my thoughts and comments:

  1. I’m Biased:  I am incredibly indebted to African Americans.  From teachers to coaches, musicians to authors, co-workers to neighbors, shipmates to teammates, professors to colleagues, family physicians to dance instructors, pastors to congregants, pediatricians to counselors, mentors to role models, from girlfriends to the best man in my wedding, I have been so influenced by black folks that without these relationships, I would not be the man, husband, father, friend, citizen, pastor, leader, counselor, educator, musician, or cook that I am today. So, in the same way that I hurt when family members hurt, even if I don’t entirely get it, I hurt when stories like this come up and it impacts a community of people that are so endeared to my heart.
  2. I’m White:  Having said all that, I still don’t or can’t understand what it’s like to be African American.  To a certain degree, I get it. BUT… I don’t live it.
  3. I’m Opinionated:  Personally, from my very limited vantage point on the trial, I think Zimmerman should have gotten a manslaughter charge.  That’s not the point AT ALL of this post, but I think it’s important contextually.
  4. The Intended Audience: Mostly me, and others like me who are wrestling with things like ‘Why is there such an outcry from the African American community on this particular story?”
  5. Why Bother?:   I have found that black people usually talk to black people about black people/white people things and white people usually talk to white people about black people/white people things, but black people and white people don’t usually talk with white people and black people about black people/white people things.   I guess this is my attempt to have such a conversation.

So… here’s what I think the biggest issue is with the story.  Not race, though that is part of the story.  Not the justice system, though I think most of us agree something, somewhere needs fixed.  It’s not even the verdict, gun control, the media, or a host of other things that are relevant to the story. Although I think each of these are very, very important, I think they get in the way of really wrestling with the heart of the reaction to the story – COMPOUND GRIEF.

Let me illustrate

Let’s say I invest $100 a year for 10 years with no interest.  After 10 years of this kind of investing, I have $1,000.  If I don’t make another investment, in 30 years, it’s still $1,000.

Let’s say you invest $100 a year at 10% interest.  After 10 years of this kind of investing, you would have $1,753.  Most people would say, “What, that doesn’t make sense mathematically?”  But, it’s not $1000 x %10 x 10 years, it’s the interest calculated on the principal amount invested, which is then added to the principal amount, and compounded again.  Simply put, your $1,000 made over $700.  If you never put another dime into the account, after 40 years at 10% interest, you would have $30,588.44.  All from a $1,000 investment.  Negatively, that’s why it is so hard to get out of credit card debt.  The compound interest of the debt becomes larger than the minimal payment, which makes it impossible to get out of debt making minimal payments on a large debt, even if you chuck the card, but that’s another story for another time.

Compound grief works the same way.  One tragedy plus another tragedy plus another tragedy doesn’t equal 3 tragedies on our hearts, it’s compounded.  It’s more like 9.  Or 81.  Or 6,561.

Here’s some other ways to look at compound grief.  If you have ever eaten food that has made you sick, the next couple of times you smell that same food, it makes you nauseous all over again, even if it is perfectly fine.  Or, how about the solider who did a tour in a combat zone?  When she comes home, something as simple as a person working on a roof, that I might not even see, could bring on a full fledge anxiety attack.  Or, let’s take a dog with an invisible fence.  After a few zaps, the fence is no longer needed because the dog won’t get close to the line that we can’t even see or touch.  Have you ever cried because a song, a place, or holiday brought back memories of a deceased loved one?  It makes the loss as fresh as yesterday.  Have you ever been hit by a pitch and flinched the next time a ball was pitched to you, even if it wasn’t close?  Have you ever been scared upon arriving at an intersection where you had a bad accident, although there is not any traffic?

Somehow, our bodies react physically to something that ‘reminds’ us of a trauma in our past.  These things are not exactly rational, but that doesn’t mean they are irrational.  And, it doesn’t necessarily matter if the new thing is good, bad, right, wrong, real, perceived, evil, racist, unjust, or whatever,  because it ‘feels’ just the same as the wrong thing in our past.

So… I am wondering if this Martin/Zimmerman tragedy:

  • Smells nauseating – like ‘liberty and justice for all’ during slavery
  • Causes anxiety – like ‘all men are created equal’ during Jim Crow era
  • Feels like being zapped – like ‘separate but equal’ during segregation
  • Brings back memories – like white flight, voter oppression, and desegregated busing
  • Makes people flinch – like at banks, schools, job interviews,  purchasing  homes, shopping, vacations, being ‘articulate’, or getting pulled over by the police.
  • Scares people – like the overwhelming stats in the African American community on people murdered, in prison, undereducated, underemployed, or the crazy discrepancy between verdicts for black people and white people in the ‘Stand Your Ground’ Law.

stand your grand stats

All that to say, I think the reaction to the story is more about compound grief than anything else.  The kind of grief that’s compounded in the African American Community’s emotional bank account.  Even when good ‘deposits’ are made by the government, churches, communities, good people, or whoever, they don’t come close to  equaling out the original deposit and the negative interest of compound grief that comes with being black in the United States.

So… yes, our society isn’t the same racially as it was in 1619, or 1789, or 1865, or 1954, or 1964, or 1968, or even 1993, but to too many people, the shooting of Trayvon Martin and the acquittal of George Zimmerman sure smells too similar, looks too similar, feels too similar, sounds too similar, and seems too similar to not be sick, anxious, tentative, or to cry, flinch, or just avoid the whole mess.

Here are a few articles, from varied perspectives, that I have found helpful.

  1. Edited articles
    1. The Verdict Is In… and We All Lost
    2. The Issue is Justice, Not Race
    3. 3 Things Privileged Christians Can Learn from the Trayvon Martin Case
    4. Black Racism Killed Trayvon …
    5. We Should All Be Terrified
    6. What Does A Black Parent Say To Their Child After the Zimmerman Verdict
    7. Dear White Folks
    8. Open Letter to George Zimmerman
    9. Why This Verdict
    10. Obama Issues Statement
    11. If Our Black Brothers and Sister are Hurting, Why Can’t We Just Shut Up, Listen, and Mourn With Them
    12. That Doesn’t Mean It Doesn’t Sting Any Less
    13. You Are Not Trayvon Martin
    14. Is There Racial Bias In  ‘Stand Your Ground’ Laws?
    15. Charles Barkley said he ‘agrees’ with George Zimmerman verdict

And… by the way

  1. 1619 – First slaves came to America
  2. 1789 – When American Constitution went into effect
  3. 1865 – Thirteenth amendment that abolished slavery
  4. 1954 – Segregation in schools deemed unconstitutional
  5. 1964 – 24th Amendment abolished poll tax and Civil Rights Act ends Jim Crow Laws
  6. 1968 – Fair Housing Act
  7. 1993 – Rodney King verdict and riots

 

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Categories: Counseling, Race

Racism

July 8, 2013 Leave a comment

eggs racism

“The biggest problem through the history of man is the fact that racism is anything but an anomaly” – Erik Hansen

Frankly, I get sick of the topic of racism.  It exhausts me and generally leaves me in a very bad mood.  And to boot, I think most ‘discussions’ and accusations are pretty lame, which makes it even more difficult to achieve anything productive out a very difficult, emotional,  and personal conversation.  BUT, I think we need to talk about it.  In new and better ways.

I think one huge divide (maybe the biggest) that makes this a very hazardous conversation is huge gap between the definitions of racism from those being accused of racism and those accusing another.

Racism definition from the accused:

  1. A belief or doctrine that inherent differences among the various human races determine cultural or individual achievement, usually involving the idea that one’s own race is superior and has the right to rule others.
  2. A policy, system of government, etc., based upon or fostering such a doctrine; discrimination.
  3. Abusive or aggressive behavior towards members of another race on the basis of such a belief
  4. Hatred or intolerance of another race or other races.

By this definition, I am guessing that most of us pass the test of not being racist.

Racism definition from those accusing:

“Lukewarm acceptance is more bewildering than outright rejection” – Martin Luther King, Jr

By this definition, I am guessing that all of us, regardless of race, fail the test.

So… to bridge the gap between accused and accuser, I have come up with a racism spectrum to help us all when we say either “I’m not racist” or “You’re racist,” I have created categories of the different types of racism I have experienced, witnessed, read about, or participate in.  In the spirit of openness, I think I have been guilty of 3, 4, 5, 7, 8, 9, 11,12, 13, 15,16.   Which means to me that even though I have never joined the Klan or advocated for a law that keeps anyone oppressed, and even more,  I actually have a black friend, I would have to say that by some definitions, I have a history of racism more than I would like to admit.

Here are my categories (I think the best and most honest ways to view these is beyond white and black, to assess yourself as both the accused and accuser, and to think through this beyond American/contemporary history).

  1. Radical Racism – fighting and extreme actions against other races.
  2. Intentional Racism – knowingly prejudice and supportive of actions against another race.
  3. Ignorant Racism – unknowingly prejudice, but generally unsupportive of outright actions against another race.
  4. Lazy Racism – not really paying attention to world around me and thinking that since I’m not racist (ie:  radical or intentional), than racism isn’t really a big deal and impacts only a small % of people.
  5. Trumped Black Card Racism – since the race card is played ‘too much’, the ability to correctly play the race card is lost (or since the President is Black…).
  6. Legal Racism – laws that favor a race and oppress another race.
  7. Culturally Accepted Racism – cultural norms that favor a race and oppress another race.
  8. Systemic Racism – combination of legal and cultural accepted racism that has created systems that work for one race and against other races.
  9. Beneficial Racism – a person who is not supportive of racism, but reaps benefits (knowingly or unknowlingly) of being in the ‘majority’ race due to past and present systemic, legal, and culturally accepted racism.
  10. Reverse Racism – to compensate for past racism, groups who experience intentional, systemic, legal, and culturally accepted racism get ‘unfair’ advantages.
  11. Stereotypic Racism – lumping individuals of a race into the characteristics (real and perceived) of the whole race.
  12. Confusing Racism – A Spike Lee joint can drop the ‘N’ word but a Quentin Tarantino movie can’t.
  13. Superhero Racism – when people try to do good by helping ‘those’ people out, but are unintentionally trying to turn ‘those people’ into ‘us.’
  14. Narcissistic Racism – when one group thinks they are the only group that experiences racism, often resulting in intentional or ignorant racism of another group.
  15. Advocate Voiced Racism – when a person for a majority group has to speak on behalf of a group so that ‘other group’s needs can be heard and that those people are validated.
  16. Neurotic Racism – having had negative experiences at the hands of another race (real and perceived), the expectation is that all people of that race will do the same thing for the same reasons.

Having said all that, I actually think classism has become an even bigger problem than racism and that if we were all the same race, we would figure something else out to fight over (examples:  as in Russia, Ireland, Korea, Sudan, etc..).

Categories: Race