The Widdershins

Easing the burden of fear…

Posted on: July 23, 2013

Morning Widdershins — I hope this is a great Tuesday for you.

The trial surrounding the killing of Trayvon Martin has given me serious opportunity for thought. A few years ago, I Trayvon Martinwas involved with a start-up venture capital company whose purpose was to develop an online assessment to measure the way people viewed race. The goal was not to necessarily change the way people viewed race, but for individuals to become aware of their own attitudes concerning race. The mission was simple: Provide self-awareness as a precursor to personal growth.

The company did an enormous amount of research and developed a normative database as to the various possible ways people might view race. There was a wide disparity in the possible views of Americans — the spectrum was everything from slightly less than 2% of the population still stuck in a pre-Civil War mentality to a meritocracy viewpoint to those who didn’t see race at all and were “color blind.” The goal was not to place a value judgment on the lenses with which people saw race, but it was first important for people to be aware of the way they viewed race.

We actually developed an online assessment and beta-tested it with a broad range of people. Unfortunately, the venture capital ran dry as the potential corporate market for such a tool dried up when the economy hit the wall so the use of the tool was never widespread.

I was one of the people who was in the beta-testing group. The assessment said I was “color blind” when it came to race. Knowing how the assessment worked, I knew I was color blind when scored against the normative database — it didn’t mean I was color blind in all my thoughts or actions.

I share this information not as a self-aggrandizing strength, but to share a shameless weakness. Even though I found myself ranking as someone who is color blind when compared to a database, I know that too often I am not. No matter what the assessment told me, I know I want to do better because if self-awareness doesn’t inspire you to be a better person, then why engage in it at all? If our collective goal is not to attain a richer, more robust appreciation for the uniqueness of our fellow humans, then the human experience dulls in complacency.

There has been almost unanimous praise among conservatives and liberals alike for the President’s remarks last Friday regarding the Zimmerman trial. His overall message was pretty simple, we have come a long way in diminishing the effects of racial prejudices, but we still have a long way to go.

The President along with many liberal and conservative politicians as well as commentators have said we need to have a national conversation about race and its effects. I, for one, don’t believe this conversation needs to be led by politicians or commentators. I don’t believe this conversation is advanced on cable news. This is a conversation that needs to take place nearest the actual effects of racial prejudice — at the local level.

Any national conversation around racial prejudice and its debilitating effects quickly disintegrates into shouting matches because it doesn’t take any expertise or training to have an opinion about the subject. While every opinion has a varying degree of anecdotal evidence underlying it, there is a lifetime of experience upon which that anecdotal evidence is perched. Just as you can’t unring a bell, humans can’t unlive their experiences.

All we can do is ask ourselves the question, “Without anyone else knowing, how do I see race?” An honest conversation with oneself is the most local of all conversations and it is the one with the most potential for personal growth. It is only through such growth that demonstrable positive outcomes can flourish since personal enlightenment always eases the burden of fear.

I have to believe if that is an outcome of Trayvon Martin’s death, it will be a lasting legacy to his short life and a fitting tribute to the dignity and grace of the Martin family.

This is an open thread.

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12 Responses to "Easing the burden of fear…"

I incline to believe that when adults try to amend attitudes toward race, it is often already too late. Children are our future, and children are not born with racial prejudices. They ‘catch it’ from adults.

(This southerner attended Catholic schools ‘up north’ for a couple of years. I spent a few months at St. Agnes in Cleveland in third grade, 1940.. I walked to school, and my mother seems to have come to my classroom only once.

“I did not know there was a black boy * in your classroom,” she said after her visit. “What black boy?” I said. He was the janitor’s son, she learned. But to me he was just another kid.)

When one of my son’s was in first grade he would come home everyday gushing over his “girlfriend” Paige.

It wasn’t until Parents Night that upon visiting the classroom I met Paige and her parents who were black. My son at aged 6 or 7 had made no distinction about race at that age because it simply did not occur to him.

@1, Pat, as usual, I think you are totally right. Once the jury instruction on justifiable self-defense was included based, at least, in part on the stand your ground law, the verdict was assured.

From a sociological standpoint, we are going to look back on this period of our history as the point where we turned our backs on the nearly 700 plus years of avoiding violence when at all possible and thereby condoning violence without the need to first safely retreat. That is the legacy of “stand your ground” laws as well as the added bonus and sop to the NRA where it vitiates any civil liability. That is an aspect too often overlooked in these laws — kill the only other witness, concoct a plausible story, and you have no liability whatsoever to those who remain.

Stand your ground laws are quite appropriately trumpeted by the NRA — snuff the witness and protect your assets all in one gunshot. Good marketing for more mass sales of ammo.

@2, Molly, you are right — we are too old to “unlearn” our experiences as adults. I’m heartened by the research that demonstrates the shifting attitudes of younger Americans — indeed we have come a long way.

When we were designing the instrument I described above, this was our belief: When someone comes to an adult and says, “We are going to change your attitudes,” that goes over like a lead balloon. What we wanted to do was help people discover what their attitudes were and then if they wished, introduce them to other ways of processing information based upon e-learning and training.

It was too bad that the funding dried up — it was a good vehicle for beginning a non-threatening discussion around the subject.

@3: Too bad our chat is not here. She has some hilariously funny and cute stories about one of her grandsons regarding race and color.

Prolix said: Once the jury instruction on justifiable self-defense was included based, at least, in part on the stand your ground law, the verdict was assured.

As I said in my post on this, the instructions, as given to the jury, left very little “wiggle” room for them. The fault lies with the law and I don’t see the good legislators of FL changing anything on their own.

@7, the Judge was in a no win situation here. I have generally high praise for her — she was just protecting herself on appeal, no judge wants to be overturned, especially in such a high profile case.

I do think the jury instruction could have been modified to better conform to the evidence, but the prosecutors didn’t seem to push on it. If there is fault to be apportioned, I feel it is with them — they could have been more aggressive on it, but chose not to be. That’s on them.

Prolix@8: Not sure about modifying the jury instruction. Was it just a “canned” instruction for the type of case they were sitting on?

When I read the part of the instruction that said (basically) that if Zimmerman thought he was in danger or in fear for his life (whether he actually was or not, only if he believed that) then they had to find him not guilty. To me, that kind of put them in a corner. How do you say it wasn’t true that the guy believed he was in danger of his life?

I guess y’all saw this in the news.

http://www.cnn.com/2013/07/22/us/florida-zimmerman-vehicle

@9, it seemed to be a stock instruction. I don’t know what the FL rules of criminal procedure call for in terms of instruction, but you can be sure, there were various instructions that could have been submitted on the employment of self-defense even to the point of a totally customized instruction for this case.

The problem the prosecutors got themselves into was essentially putting on the defense’s case in chief on self-defense. Strategically, they had no witness so they had to put on things like the Hannity interview in order to try and impeach Zimmerman because they knew Zimmerman would never testify.

All this mishegoss was from the lack of contemporaneous police work on the night of the killing. Once witnesses have 6 weeks to rethink events, once they hear television stories or read accounts, the events take on what they hear, not what they saw.

Prolix@10: Yes I’ll agree on the prosecutors’ case. And agree completely about the issue of the witnesses. Law and Order did an episode once where there was a shooting in public, and the detectives are interviewing people. The disparities in their descriptions was amazing. When they got back to the office to compare notes all they could do was to figuratively shake their heads.

Very interesting post, Prolix.

I really like what Molly said. I was speaking to my stepmother over the weekend about this (she is African-American) and she said something similar. “The kids are going to fix it.” I agree, and not because kids are naturally less prejudiced (although they are). The reason is that “white” is not going to exist within a couple of generations. There are too many beautiful “mixed-race” children being born. So, we simply won’t be able to distinguish well enough to be prejudiced. Too much thinking usually makes ignorance go away. 🙂

Meanwhile, we have a bunch of gun-loving idiots making laws like this, which basically amount to “I wanted to shoot someone, so I did. Yay me!” These laws should be overruled at a federal level. They are horribly dangerous and far too easily abused.

Personally I feel that if Trayvon were not a black kid in a hoodie, Zimmerman would not have taken the chance on shooting him. Just imagine this story with a white guy in a suit or a white girl, and I think it takes a whole different turn. That is where the racism comes in, but it is personal to Zimmerman IMHO. Too bad the guy had the brains and self-awareness of a tea kettle; he could have benefited from the conversations you’re talking about, Prolix!

Excellent points MB.

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