The aftershocks of Trayvon Martin’s shooting at the hands of self-styled neighborhood watch patroller George Zimmerman keep on coming. Now, it would seem that the tragic event is bringing race relations back the national forefront.
Many pundits have written about how unsafe it is to be a black person in America on any grounds. Others are delving into the finer aspects of what they call white privilege. Yet more believe that the City of Sanford’s legal system is a microcosm of the entire country’s, and stands as proof regarding why black people are kept down. I say that all of this is mostly reactionary, emotionalist rhetoric designed to either elicit a highly charged response or propagate professional victimhood.
In any case, it certainly does fail to aptly explain the situation. I have my own thoughts on the matter, and these are derived from personal experience. As a central Floridian who has made a full fledged hobby out of studying regional history, I understand the area’s cultural dynamics pretty well. That being said, do allow me to tell a story.
A few months ago, I was driving through a high crime part of town in order to reach a lunch appointment in the suburbs. Despite staying on the main thoroughfare, I nonetheless managed to see droves of young black males sitting on stoops, congregating at corners, and aimlessly walking the streets. In front of ages old shanties sat rusted cars and broken furniture. Storefronts had bars on their windows. To top it all off, groups of roving hoods strolled past the neighborhood police precinct without so much as a moment’s hesitation. In short, the place fit every stereotype imaginable about life in the black inner city.
Several weeks later, I was off to a historical museum over an hour away. It was a very pleasant drive for the most part, but with a major caveat. I had to pass through an unfortunate stretch of forest which immediately reminded me of the aforementioned ghetto. Why? Because I saw the exact same things; shanties fronted by scraps of metal passing for automobiles, males congregating on the junctions of dirt roads, and battered storefronts. The only difference was that the people around me were lily white.
Most outside observers would never put both of these places under the same category. After all, one is urban and the other rural. Neither have any ethnic or racial demographic similarities to speak of. Where it really counts, though, they could not be more alike. In terms of culture, abysmal mores are shared, which is likely the result of longstanding detrimental economic conditions. Indeed, this is the beating heart of social inequality.
Trayvon Martin’s death could have just as easily taken place out in the sticks as it did in the city. His race was probably not as much of motivating factor as the fear of crime was. As all social writers and scientists very well know, fiscal malaise is the root of most criminal activity. Should the American public really want to ensure that Martin’s unfortunate demise does not become the stuff of normalcy, then it would be prudent to request that private and public sector agencies attempt to teach marketable skills to the downtrodden. Receiving a worthwhile college or trade school education is akin to being taught how to fish rather than asking for the left overs from another’s catch.
Economic advancement is the key to a brighter tomorrow for untold millions. Redistributing wealth on a chronic basis has already been tried via the late President Lyndon B. Johnson’s Great Society programs. It goes without saying that these were a monumental failure. Those protesting Martin’s shooting should be honoring his memory by lobbying major charities and their public officeholders for viable community outreach measures. Demanding that police arrest Zimmerman when he, sad as it is to say, might not be guilty under state law is ridiculous. It is through proactive, as opposed to reactive, activity that the cornerstones for a safer and more socioeconomically sustainable future may be laid.
Race, in the grander scheme of things, should be considered but a mere footnote in achieving this.