Death by Racism

Like many Americans, I am awash in uncomfortable feelings raised by the acquittal of George Zimmerman for the murder of Trayvon Martin.

I am trying to separate out the various emotions, in hopes of putting them back together in some way that is more coherent or at least allows me to answer for myself, “What now?”  How do I go on doing my very best to support anti-racist activism so that a horrific tragedy like this becomes less and less likely?

One way to divide the issues for myself:

–“Death by race” is my category for people whose lives were lost because of the unpredictable and toxic ways that racism is transformed from passive ideology to active intervention.  Other victims of murderous racism I am remembering are Emmett Till and Vincent Chin.  This Huffington Post piece points out why it is so important not to consider Zimmerman’s shooting of Martin an isolated incident, but instead recognize it as evidence of deep racial pathologies in the U.S.  And these underlying concerns are not unique to racially-inspired hate and fear, as we remember from the tragedy of Matthew Shepard.  And, even as I write this, I am painfully aware that these are just a few among many whose names I don’t know.

—State-sanctioned, institutional racism creates a false impression that more non-white than white Americans are criminals, encouraging fear and “self-defense” as responses in others

—Surveillance is disguised as a safety tactic, legitimizing  attention to individuals and groups based on prejudicial and unjustified racist attitudes, but profiling does not make us safer, research shows

—Freedom is being equated with gun ownership, in large part because of the lobbying/monetary power of the NRA and not because most Americans themselves make this connection

—Individuals (say, on juries) act upon unexamined racist assumptions.  We need to focus on encouraging more culturally competent Americans who can separate personal biases from reasonable conclusions

So, Americans need to collectively confront:  individual attitudes and actions motivated by racism; institutional and governmental racism; what our history teaches us and how not to repeat it; and how to stop living in fear of others when there is no real cause.

At a recent WWHAT’S UP?! book club meeting, I found the idea of trauma to be a useful concept to think about how to go forward, recognizing the emotional fragility of all Americans and trying to find a way to address that in order to prevent death by racism.

Writer: anupama jain

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