25 April 2012

Sometimes the despair is overwhelming.

I am following the Trayvon Martin shooting, using the magnification feature on the laptop to see if I can find any traces of a broken nose on George Zimmerman in the photographs that have been published, and I can't.

I look at the dribbles of blood on the photographs of the back of his head, and I don't see the kinds of abrasions and wounds, nor the amount of blood, expected in a scalp wound.

I look at the photographs of George Zimmerman and all I can think of when I look at his pictures is that he looks like a fringe gang-banger. Truculent, angry, disappointed at the way his life is going despite everything he tries to do to fit in.

I look at the photos of Trayvon Martin and all I can think of is here is a young guy who looked as though he was trying to fit in with his peers at the same time he was trying to get through high school and into adulthood.

I told a friend a few days ago that I thought the whole thing was some kind of horrific misunderstanding on both Martin and Zimmerman's parts. I think both let tempers flare and things got out of hand and George Zimmerman destroyed two lives in less time than it takes most of us to chose a tomato at the grocery.

I posted a comment on a newsfeed that I felt George Zimmerman had set back race relations 50 years that hideous night.

I was a gun owner in the US. I used my gun for self-protection twice, once not fired, and once fired. Long stories short, in the mid-seventies whilst living in Alaska I showed my rifle to the man who was breaking down my back door-that was all it took for him to drop the crowbar and run. In the late eighties I had to put a round over the head of a junkie coming through the front door. I feel defenseless and helpless and frightened without a gun here in the UK, I really do, it is the one thing that nearly held me back from moving here.

But I am a firm believer that there are people who should never have access to firearms, and I would have pegged George Zimmerman as one of those before he shot 17 year old Trayvon Martin. The minute George Zimmerman was arrested for attacking a police officer should have been the minute he was no longer able to own a gun, or have access to one. He should never have been able to join a neighbourhood watch group, and he should never have been able to even think about being a Law Enforcement Officer.

WTH were people thinking-why did a criminal background check on him not raise flags when he applied for his permit?!

Obviously, I think Trayvon Martin was killed for the crime of walking while black in the rain with his hood up against the wet.

But do I think Zimmerman is guilty of Murder 2nd? No. At best he is guilty of manslaughter, and I think his being charged with Murder 2nd is going to get him off, and he will never really have to answer for that kid's death except when he dies and faces God. Personally I think the charge was made in order to give a jury a chance to turn him loose; if he is convicted I'll be shocked and amazed-the town where Martin was killed refuses to censor the police chief who dragged his heels at charging Zimmerman in the first place, and the state where the killing occurred is in the process of deciding a sentence for a black woman who dared fired a round over the head of her attacker-a man against whom she had a valid restraining order!

Racism, God help us all, lives and flourishes in the USA, and the despair at knowing it still does is alternately sickening, infuriating, and frightening.

Our country is incapable of a reasonable, intelligent, and productive discussion of race relations, it really is, and I think we are going to reap a bitter harvest because of that inability-sooner rather than later.

I remember watching the riots that erupted across LA after the Rodney King beating. I remember feeling sick and heartbroken as the video of the beating played and replayed, as the city burst into flames and mayhem that left over 50 people dead. In Los Angeles, in the 1990s.

Why was I shocked? Because I remember the Watts riots, too-I was in Watts when the riot started. The grandmother of the girl I'd gone to play with that afternoon hustled me into the pantry-porch, posting her grandsons around the front yard, and enlisting the use of a neighbour's car to get me back to 'the white section'.

As I ducked down in the back seat so no-one would see me, cowering in the foot well, I could see another friend's dad, a white man, standing on the roof of his petrol station with a shotgun at the ready. His face looked so different from the face I'd known as we all played in their backyard before the riots were even a hint of a worry in anyone's mind, black or white.

After the riots were finally over all the white business owners left Los Angeles, and my friend's family moved to a 'safe place'. No blacks, no Hispanics, no Asians. Everyone was white there-my friend's family moved to a mountain ridge and never came back down until college. In the summer we would all get together on the public lake beaches near their new home. If a black family showed up, my friend's family was clearly uncomfortable.

Growing up there were kids from all races and religions at my schools, in my neighbourhood; we were all friends and those who couldn't be comfortable around other races were slowly dropped from the guest lists.

I really thought those Jim Crow days were something from history, and that the changes made after the Watts Riots had stuck and made a difference.

When I was in my late twenties my husband moved us to AL with his job. We'd met in Louisiana, and had lived in NW FL, I knew prejudice still existed but AL was a hugely disappointing education in just how little things had changed.

But it was also in AL that I saw the first signs of the things I'd missed as a child back in Southern California. The anger, the sullen anger born of the constant burden of enduring institutionalised racism that festers until it erupts...

The first time I got scared was while I was sitting in the car outside a grocery store waiting for my then husband. A white woman driving a late model Volvo station wagon pulled into a parking space, got out, and started across the car park towards the grocery. She looked like someone's well preserved late 60s-ish mum. Well dressed without overdoing it, she looked like someone I would sit next to at church, someone who probably ran the Altar Guild, and did charitable work.

A car load of black woman pulled in, radio blaring a 2LiveCrew song, defining and illustrating every textbook definition of stereotypical archetypes who give racists justification. Every one of those women was morbidly obese, had orange hair, wearing halter tops and very short shorts, and every single one of those women was in the process of being just as loud and coarse as she possibly could.

I sat there with my jaw hanging open because I couldn't believe my eyes, these women were cartoons, they were caricatures, they were SCARY. They looked as though they'd come for a fight, and any one would do. It seemed to me their eyes were glowing red, that's how frightening they were in their behaviour and manner.

They piled heavily, loudly, and angrily, out of the beater they'd arrived in, and began shoving shopping trolleys left behind by other shoppers out of their way-and into the Volvo. While the white woman watched and then turned without saying a word to walk into the grocery after making eye contact with the black woman who'd sent TWO trolleys into the Volvo with a yip of glee.

It was early spring 1986. I was flabbergasted, and I was ready to leave SouthEast AL.

Because I am white, I was considered by every single black person I ever met in the American South, to be two things.

First, rich. Because all white people are rich. I swear to God Almighty, I had many blacks tell me that-you're white so you're rich.

Second, racist. I also had many blacks tell me that because I was white, I was a racist, and nothing I ever did would change that. But they appreciated that I tried.

I finally left in 2005, after Katrina. People try to gloss over what happened at the SuperDome. I wasn't there, but I know those people. I believe the worst of what happened never made the newspapers.

Not that where I went was any better. I lived in Cherokee County, right next to Forsyth County-where I could take an old country road and see a still legible sign advising blacks to be out of Forsyth County by dark or suffer the consequences.

Now I live in the UK, and you know what? It's not any better here, either. Racism is EVERYWHERE, and because we cannot talk about it, it is going to come up and burst into flames so thick, so widespread, so unquenchable, that it truly will end the world as we know it.

Because I have had too many black people tell me it is automatic, comes with the genes-white=racist and nothing will ever change that. Dialogue is impossible, and sometimes I am convinced we are doomed.

Because I know whites who think the day will come that all other races will have to be eliminated so that whites can finally live in peace. I also know people of all the other races who think the same way about whites.

There doesn't seem to be anything we can do, any of us. Nothing we can say. Shortly before I lost my job in 2009 I overheard a youngish black woman-college educated and intelligent-tell a white co-worker "Now it's our turn, you whites are gonna know what it feels like!"

The white co-worker was stunned I think, there was a moments silence but as I walked into the work area (I was their supervisor at the time) I heard his chair scrape as he stood, and he said "You don't want equality, you want revenge!"

He brushed past me and said loudly "I quit!" He never came back to work, and Human Resources never asked me what had happened. His desk was cleared out as I was sitting in my supervisor's office telling him what had happened.

And two weeks later I lost my job-and the youngish black woman was named as my replacement. Eleven months later I left the US.

Sometimes the despair is overwhelming.

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