Saturday, March 24, 2012

Saturday Musings, 24 March 2012

Good morning,

When I awakened this morning, I had in mind to write about my brother Frank.

I'm not close to my brother Frank. I admire a lot of the choices he has made, and I find the length of his marriage, the number and quality of his children, and the passion that he has for his career, to be more than admirable: I find them wondrous. But what I planned to share this morning had nothing to do with the man he has become. Rather, I wanted to tell people about the boy that he was, decades ago, in a small suburban home, where I lived with my brother Frank and my other siblings, and our mother, and our father.

Specifically, I awakened with the memory of my brother Frank bringing me a tray of vanilla wafers one evening, as I lay in bed writhing from the perceived agony of my first menstrual cramps. He did not understand why I was sick: At nine, he had no concept of this particular ailment, the province of teenage girls and other female creatures. Earlier in the day, he had accused me of faking. She doesn't look sick, he complained to my mother, after she shifted my kitchen duties to his slender unwilling shoulders. As the night fell around our home, he had a change of heart. He brought me that tray with a plate of vanilla wafers, one of several universal panaceas in our families; and the comics; and a cup of hot tea.

I'm not sure why that memory surfaced as I drifted in and out of sleep this morning, listening to the faint stirrings of my beloved husband on the first floor of our small home. But regardless of what prompted that recollection, I found that ruminating about my brother Frank eased me into a pleasant state of mind, where I like to dwell, where I like to persuade my friends to dwell. The latter phenomenon prompted my resolve to describe that evening, when I sat down to this aging laptop, with Scott Simon's voice murmuring in the background.

And then I came downstairs, to a waiting cup of coffee, and the newspaper, and all hell broke loose.

I found myself latching onto the second thought that rose to mind as I awakened: That I needed to let my husband know that he would be responsible for making dinner on Monday, because I planned to go to the vigil for Trayvon Martin, which I rightly believed would be held on Monday at 5:30 p.m., by the Fountain on the Country Club Plaza. I checked the newspaper and the article confirmed my recollection from the prior evening's perusal of Facebook. And then an argument ensued, between my conservative husband and my liberal self.

He opined that our country needs to move past "racism". I do not disagree with this concept. But we do seem to disagree on whether shooting a young boy because he is wearing a grey hoodie and walking in a neighborhood at night, after apparently describing him with a racial slur on a 911 call, is an act of racism. We also seem to disagree on whether it is reasonable to fear a person simply because he walks in your neighborhood at night, wearing his God-given skin and a grey hoodie probably purchased by his mother at the local Target. We also seem to disagree on whose "fault" it is that the shooter feared that slender-looking, brown-skinned boy, and whether that boy's killing should have national significance.

I found myself shaking. I have four nieces and nephews who are African-American; a great niece with gorgeous brown skin; and a niece and a nephew who are Asian. Anyone of them might look "scary" in a grey hoodie late at night, through certain filters, through the lens of certain societal assumptions. Hell, my own son, with scruffy unshaven mug and wild curly hair, has often walked the streets of Brookside in such a hoodie, late at night, when life overwhelmed him and he could not sleep. He does not have brown skin, but in the dark, can that be seen? Could he not be the victim of those same societal stereotypes? Just as my son, late at night, at a casual, fearful glance, could fall victim to those stereotypes, so could any one of my three nephews, sons of my brother Frank and his wife Teresa, both of whom are teachers in the St. Louis area, good practicing Catholics, whose children -- two biological and five adopted -- form their own little United Nations.

I understand the point that my husband clumsily tried to make. He opines, with some degree of validity, that if it is true that there have been crimes committed by a significant number of young black men wearing hoodies, then it might be reasonable for a person, aware of that statistic, to be fearful that a young black man wearing a hoodie is "yet another criminal". At least, I think that is what he was trying to say, and if that is so, then I see the point of his argument. He further opines that our world needs to move past the idea of race as a factor in our decision-making, and I certainly agree with him on that point.

But I cannot tolerate the use of racial slurs, or the shooting of a young man, apparently solely on the basis of his skin color, the fact that he wears a grey hoodie on a cool night, and his presence on the streets of a neighborhood where he is thought not to belong. From what I have read in the newspaper, which includes quotes of the shooter, these are the factors that prompted the shooting, and if that turns out to be true, then the act stands as one of the more appalling and tragic occurrences that I have ever witnessed -- and I have witnessed quite a few and read about even more.

My husband is a good and thoughtful man. I love him, even though at times we confound each other from our divergent ends of the philosophical spectrum. Even though he doubts that I listened to him, I do understand the essential point that he tried to convey to me. I see how his reasoning can flow. If a bunch of gimpy white women have robbed banks, and a gimpy white woman walks into a bank as I plan to do shortly after opening bell today, it's understandable if the teller gets a little jumpy. But this particular teller did more than get jumpy. He verbalized the stereotype, if the 911 tape says what it seems to say. I believe, based upon what I have read of his actions and statements, that George Zimmerman spoke from a festering foundation of racial bias. And I believe, based upon what i have read of his actions and statements, that George Zimmerman used his racial bias as an excuse to draw his weapon and pursue a slender young boy simply because that boy violated a rule that the shooter felt should be honored.

Trayvon Martin dared to be black, after dark, on a street where being black after dark apparently violates the sensibility of the neighborhood watch.

I wish we could, as my husband exhorts, move past race. But we have not. As long as there are ugly words used to describe a seventeen-year-old boy on the basis of his skin color; as long as people assume that your skin color predicts your probable behavior; as long as people feel that they need to protect themselves from someone simply on the basis of skin color, we have not moved past race. And as long as such people escape the consequences of their horrible assumptions, we will not.

Mugwumpishly tendered,

Corinne Corley

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The Missouri Mugwump™

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I've been many things in my life: A child, a daughter, a friend; a wife, a mother, a lawyer and a pet-owner. I've given my best to many things and my worst to a few. I live in Brookside, in an airplane bungalow. I'm an eternal optimist and a sometime-poet. If I ever got a poem published in The New Yorker, I would die a happy woman. I'm a proud supporter of the Arts in Kansas City. I vote Democrat, fly the American flag, cry at Hallmark commercials, and recycle.