Monday, July 15, 2013

The Death of Trayvon Martin and Learning How to Listen

Garland Jeffreys, “Racial Repertoire,” from Don’t Call Me Buckwheat (1992)
I’m still trying to collect my thoughts on the George Zimmerman verdict, so I haven’t posted anything substantive for the past couple days. I spent some time listening to TWiB.FM yesterday and today. They’ve dedicated several hours to addressing the case and various reactions to it. Mostly what I’ve come away with is this: If you’re a middle-aged white guy like me, right now is probably a good time to listen to people of color, rather than to lecture … well … anybody about the trial itself or the underlying incident.
That’s a skill that’s hard to learn, especially, I think, for white guys who are used to thinking of themselves as The World’s Foremost Experts On Everything. It’s especially hard for me, I think, because as the youngest child in a very large family, I spent my childhood feeling as though I couldn’t ever get a word in edgewise – so when I reached adulthood, I more or less started talking and never stopped.
But we – all of us, collectively: black, white, brown – have until the end of time to parse and analyze and rehash every detail, every subtle nuance of the case. Right now, what’s more important than all that rational, careful, scientific analysis, is to listen. There’s a huge segment of our population who are hurting right now. People of color feel strongly that the criminal justice system is stacked against them; that the outcome of the Zimmerman case, although expected, confirms a long-held belief that their lives are worth less than ours.
People are hurt and angry. People feel as though they are targets because of their race. People feel as though their children aren’t safe on account of their race. So, yeah, I think those of us who aren’t in that position should stop and listen. I don’t think that’s too much to ask.
If you’re looking for a place to start, I recommend my friends at This Week In Blackness. In addition to the podcasts, there are several posts on the Zimmerman trial and related matters. Another good starting point is this piece by Ta-Nehisi Coates at The Atlantic. And if you’re not following Wieland (@lawscribe) on Twitter, you’re doing yourself a great disservice.
The point isn’t that you have listen to or read what these folks have to say and simply agree with them. The point is, everybody keeps saying they want a “dialogue.” Well, sometimes the only way to have a dialogue is to let the other person speak first.


  1. Thank you. These are all resources I did not know. Thank you for your good sense and kind heart.

  2. Beautifully stated, as always. I've been hedging myself big time with this one, and just asking a lot of questions. There aren't a lot of answers forthcoming; not good ones at least. But it's better than nothing.

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  4. =( I feel like I've been hit in the head with a brick. Since I live in LA I have been talking to my diverse group of friends and coworkers... I still can't process it... I can not remove it from history... the law was served... where is the compassion... I am very sad...

  5. I found this article to resonate.

    This one was good, but didn't resonate as much. Seemed to "pat answer" we all need to come together and sing social justice songs