I am heartbroken and sad and angry and disappointed in the results of the Zimmerman trial. Many are. Not because the jury was wrong based on the case presented. Not because I believed that a jury is a “moral surrogate” aimed to right the wrongs facing communities across the country, but because I believe that the system they inhabit are meant to protect our citizens. All of them, not some. Our lives should matter, not just to the state, but to each other. And not just by the physical act of living, but how we interact, how we contribute to the experiment of our country by the people and for the people.
I am humbled to watch the perfecting of our nation continue, through trial and error and fortitude and determination, but there is more work to be done. Exclusion still exists in America. Based on the way we look, the way we love, our geography, our income – it is a difficult and unavoidable truth. Those who deny that things like racism, sexism, oppression, and economic marginalization exist are in denial or oblivious or ignorant or, worse, part of the problem. The evidence is everywhere, and it cannot be ignored.
From the furor, on both sides, over the Zimmerman trial to the confiscation of tampons, but not firearms, from women at the Texas legislature’s successful limitation of women’s access to health care and reproductive rights. The dismantling of an integral piece of civil rights legislation less than a year after thousands of Americans, particularly Americans of color, struggled against legislation to make their voices heard in November. The fight over our country’s character and history as a nation of immigrants and what that means for our future. The vitriol and suspicion and desperation flowing from conversations about guns. These are not new fights, our history continues to shape and mold our future and repeats itself with unfailing accuracy, yet our ability to learn from it seems to continue to fail.
There is work to be done. There are important conversations that need to be had without the false dichotomies of us and them, ours and theirs, with us or against us. A dialogue is essential, and it does not consist of many people screaming into the dark, hoping their sound bites echo over the din. Our first task to heal the wounds in our nation’s communities is to listen, to learn from each other.
I am sure you will ask – what do you know of these struggles? You are white. You are privileged. You are young. You were blessed with a family who supports you, schools who recognized your potential and invested in your success, the luck to be in the right place at the right time for the opportunities to come to you. None of that is untrue, and I am humbled and grateful for all of it. I have already talked about my obligation to invest in the potential of others, and I am indebted by it all.
I am also empowered by the generations that have come before me who fought and bled and believed that their lives were important to their country. That their voices, their contributions made a difference. That their rights to be who they were, to pursue the far, twinkling beacon of their version of the American dream, to understand and receive justice. To be acknowledged and present, and through that, empowered.
To look at their community and their country, to know it and love it for what it is, but be willing to do the hard work to constantly improve it. To understand that we are often a nation and a people of contradictions, but not mutually exclusive to progress and brotherhood.
Aspiring to be better is a distinguishing characteristic of the American spirit. Our country is better than this exclusion and fear of what is different. We are made greater when we take on that fear – the fear of the unknown, of adventure, of failure, of new frontiers. When we work to understand it, to take the great leap across it and arrive on the other side empowered by our knowledge and experience, that is when our nation’s character shines through. When we come together, different people with different ideas and different experiences to share and to learn and to not only build something new, but to constantly work to improve it. That “this nation is more than the sum of its parts – that out of many, we are truly one.“
We are made better by the communities we build, and they are built stronger by our nation’s diversity. It is something to be celebrated, not to be feared. I love my country, and I want to be a part of its evolution to a place where acceptance and justice and equal opportunity exist. Where women control their own health care. Where every child can access high quality education and not have to worry about going to school hungry. Where elected officials are held accountable to their constituents.
Where a kid can buy Skittles and walk through his own community at night. Where his potential is not limited by the fear of his skin color or a sweatshirt’s hood. Where his life is valued, where justice is served.
This article on Gawker, by Cord Jefferson, is incredibly powerful and moving and if you haven’t read it yet, I highly suggest it. “The Zimmerman Trial Told Young Black Men What We Already Knew.”