, Salem, MA


August 13, 2013

Watson: We can discuss racial issues openly

The case of Trayvon Martin — shot by George Zimmerman after a runaway sequence of events — sure got everybody’s attention.

Those whites who have little sympathy or patience for considering the black experience generally, simply wouldn’t examine what, if anything, they could learn from an event that may illuminate troubling patterns in the interactions between black males (of any age) and authority. Those whites seem to bristle at the notion that simply being black could ever result in outcomes or life experiences that might — if all other factors could be held constant — be different than those of white people.

And many blacks, quite familiar — personally or through incidents told them — with the sort of surveillance, or monitoring, or actual questioning that Trayvon may have experienced, were filled with anger and outrage at his death. To those blacks, Trayvon’s death is both an individual death and a symbol of the humiliation and too-often-invisible injustice of a thousand questionable traffic stops, harassments and mistreatments.

The blacks and whites — and their reactions — who I’ve just described are a giant gap apart. But many blacks and whites can see the terrible simultaneous realities that make these cases so difficult. In many urban areas, blacks are disproportionately the perpetrators (and victims) of crime, and troubled black male youths are really overrepresented in crime statistics (and in prison populations). There is a legitimate reason that law enforcement authorities and ordinary, unbigoted citizens sometimes look hard at urban black youth.

At the same time, black males — innocent or guilty — are constantly on the receiving end of those looks. It’s the rare black man who has not experienced the reality of being questioned or of making a stranger uncomfortable. If you are a law-abiding black man, you learn to adopt strategies to cope with these realities. But it can certainly make you feel anger, resentment, bitterness, humiliation and the object of injustice.

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