“I’m a minority where we live!”

The night before Andrea’s law school graduation, we had drinks with her mom Mrs. S, her stepdad Tim, and her uncles Lee and Jamie. Mrs. S and Tim are Republicans from Florida. They love Sarah Palin and hate President Obama. They’re outspoken Fox News conservatives.

Adding alcohol to this outing guaranteed one of two outcomes. Either Mrs. S and Tim would have fun and not bring up politics or everyone would get into a screaming match by the end of the night. Andrea was willing to risk the latter, in hopes that the former would occur.

By the third round of drinks, Tim surpassed drunk and proceeded to belligerent.

“I’m not represented in this country — not with the current president!

I rolled my eyes and took the bait. “Really, Tim?”

“I’m a minority where we live!”

“Y’all live in Orlando.”

“Most of our neighbors are Hispanic!”

“Let’s backtrack. How are you oppressed as a straight white man in America?”

“I’m not oppressed, I’m just sayin’ that more…y’know…”

“More what? Or whom?”

“More minorities are — ”

“Procreating? Living in your neighborhood? Taking jobs that were previously held by white people?”

“Yes!”

“Must be tough to feel isolated and shafted out of opportunities because of your skin color.”

“It’s very tough.”

“Imagine if generations of your family had to deal with that.”

Tim paused, pondering this.

“The thing is, they haven’t and it’s highly unlikely they will.”

“But what if — ”

“If we minorities outnumber y’all white folks, we’re not going to inflict reverse racism on you.”

“Not outta spite?”

“You’ve got white (and male) privilege. You’ll never know what it’s like to be discriminated against because of your race or gender.”

“I still don’t feel represented by Congress — ”

“The majority of Congress is made of middle-aged white men.”

“Who you callin’ middle-aged?!”

“Plus, President Obama is biracial. He’s half-white. Which you white dudes tend to forget.”

“Hmph.”

“Not that it should have any bearing on his leadership abilities. Just pointing out facts.”

“Obama may be biracial, but he’s still a socialist!”

“I need another drink before we continue this conversation.”

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A broken system: the perpetuity of racism, ignorance, & lack of empathy

There have been countless articulate responses to the verdict from the Trayvon Martin/George Zimmerman case that people have posted already, but I wanted to collect my thoughts (and not repeat what many have already said) before contributing my opinion.

There aren’t words to properly express the simultaneous outrage and incredulity that I felt when Zimmerman was found not guilty of all charges. The American court system has proven to be ineffective in other cases, but this is the most recent case that showed justice doesn’t exist for everyone. There are legal and political reasons for the system being broken, but I think it comes down to the perpetuity of racism, ignorance (and harmful stereotypes), as well as a lack of empathy.

My coworkers are mostly middle-aged (or older) white men. While the trial was going on, they would make comments like:

“What if Trayvon was a thug and Zimmerman was just protecting himself?”

or,

“Trayvon sounded like he was acting suspicious and could’ve provoked Zimmerman to shoot.”

and my all-time favorite,

“I don’t think this is about race.”

There are too many white people who don’t have empathy. They’ve been insulated from prejudices and stereotypes that are inherently working against people of color. They believe that people deserve whatever their lot in life is, not that the system is designed to work against certain people. They can’t see outside their white privilege, because they don’t acknowledge that it exists.

A white young man doesn’t have to worry that if he’s wearing a hoodie and walking by himself, that he’ll get shot down by a neighborhood vigilante. He will not be pulled over by a policeman for driving “too nice” of a car. Or be followed around a store, if he’s just browsing. A white young woman wouldn’t be labeled as a hoodrat if she used slang or had long nails with intricate nail art.  A white young woman wouldn’t be presumptuously asked if she has a baby daddy. (Miley Cyrus’s “We Can’t Stop” video is proof of this, but that’s another rant for another time.)

There are too many white people who don’t recognize these are things they have never dealt with, which people of color deal with everyday. The fact that Zimmerman’s attorneys tried to defame Trayvon’s character, by attempting to prove that he was a thug implies that “he deserved to be shot.” That Zimmerman was protecting himself from an eminent threat — an African-American teenage boy.

It’s not enough for people to claim that they’re not racist because they don’t use the n word. It’s not enough for people to have one token friend who’s a person of color. It’s not enough for people to be outraged at this court ruling, or others like it. People have to change their way of thinking. Neighborhoods that are mostly comprised of minority families shouldn’t be considered sketchy, just because of its residents. Poverty shouldn’t define a person’s life trajectory, nor should there be a stigma attached to one’s socioeconomic status.

This should be a wake-up call. It’s 2013 and the U.S. is still dealing with institutionalized racism. Change needs to happen.