I don’t plan on getting into a lawyer’s analysis of the recent Zimmerman trial, but it does seem to me that there is something wrong with the stand your ground law in Florida and though it wasn’t cited in the trial, some jurors reporting using it for guidance. Nor will I get into a long and often heated discussion about racial issues in the deliberations, except to say I know firsthand the pernicious impact race has in our nation. How could it not given the sordid history of slavery before we even became the United States of America.
Someone said to me recently that the only way things will really change is when minorities become majorities. That may be the realistic reading, but I hope not. I would hope that there are enough fair minded citizens to build a diverse and healthy nation now and into the future.
But my life suggests that attitudes toward others who are not like us change when we become good neighbors, or school mates, or military buddies, or friends or family members. It’s all about relationships, up close and personal. People fear who and what they don’t know. When you know someone well it’s difficult to put them into stereotypical boxes, and you recognize that underneath the external features there are more basic human qualities.
But I had an interesting insight the other day after listening to parents of African American boys or young men talk about how they had to counsel them about dealing with such institutions as police, how they had to be prepared that they might be treated differently because of their race. Many of the speakers were fathers who spoke about talking with their sons about this issue.
And I thought to myself had I ever taken my son, now in his twenties and living in a different state, and sat down to talk to him about what to do if he might be pulled over by a police officer or had to walk home at night and ask him to be aware that he was white? Sure I warned him about driving carefully, especially at night, or how to deal with school hassles. But I never spoke with him about having to deal with unfair attitudes or actions.
Thinking about my son’s growing up and listening to African American fathers has given me a better understanding of what it means to be a young black man or parent in America, and how my experiences were different. And it offers me a hope that one day, as Martin Luther King, Jr. once said, we will be judged on the content of our character and not the color of our skins.