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Skyping with the Preacher

The vulnerability of our nation’s Trayvons

What the bleep? Oh, a Skype from the Preacher. A moment later the Skype phone rang, I adjusted for video and audio. The Preacher was rocking Ysaye Barnwell: “For each child that’s born a morning star rises and sings to the universe who we are. We are our grandmothers’ prayers. We are our grandfathers’ dreamings. We are the breath of our ancestors. We are the spirit of God.”  

“Let’s talk Trayvon” he opened. 

I had been clearing blackberries so I was in a prickly mood. “Sure,” I said. “How do you tell the difference between inexcusable stupidity and racism, between willful ignorance and deliberate malice, however unconscious?” 

“Well,” he said, mimicking congregational sermon response. “In our neighborhoods, a child couldn’t walk home without being known on sight in a four-block radius by at least one adult per block. Didn’t need no guns. We used knowledge, we passed on wisdom, not fear. We treated each others’ children as if they were our children. At the very least we would ask, ‘Who is your family? Are you lost, can I help you get home?’ We didn’t mean send him to heaven. Can I get an Amen!” 

Amen! “That was to protect them from people who were from outside of the community, including police officers who were proven Klansmen,” he said.

“So,” I asked, “you’re saying Zimmerman’s sin was not treating one of our children as one of his children? Or if that’s a stretch, at least treat Trayvon the way we would treat a child we didn’t know? And asking questions and offering assistance? Kind of a Platinum Rule thing: Do unto others the way they want to be done unto, even if, especially, if that’s better than you?”

“Right” he nodded. “Philippians 2: 2-3. Fulfil ye my joy, that ye be likeminded, having the same love, being of one accord, of one mind. Let nothing be done through strife or vainglory; but in lowliness of mind let each esteem other better than themselves.”

“But further,” he said, “sin is willful disobedience. The history of the South is supportive of institutional and structural racism. This makes the Trayvons of the world uniquely vulnerable. Killing a potential Martin Luther King Jr., a potential Paul Robeson, a potential Beethoven, is simple self-defense to white supremacy. Many avowed racists are capable of making exceptions for specific favored minority individuals, but not for ‘uppity’ others they don’t know, or the larger group. So Zimmerman can mentor and befriend some black youth and some black people, but see Trayvon as an enemy alien. He is obeying tradition. What some people call racism, others call tradition.”

“So since you don’t even have to be white to support white supremacy,” he said. “Zimmerman becomes a pawn of a larger social structure. Thus, like Angela (Davis) said in the CNN interview, it is to that larger structure we should pay attention. See the white supremacy chess game, not just the players”

“How are the Trayvon’s in your community treated?” He asked.

“Don’t ask. Not well,” I responded.