We are left with only somber reflection about what these events have meant to us as a society, and into what direction we are headed. In counseling, we begin with empathy.
Most importantly, we must begin to listen to those who feel Trayvon's plight as a young African-American male in U.S. society. How does the average American view young black men? According to other black men, not favorably. According to criminal justice statistics, harshly. Many white people never worry while out in public that someone might view them as a threat, or that the police might erroneously pull them over and mistreat them, or that a random neighborhood watch person might approach them with suspicion, or that their life might suddenly end because of the color of their skin. This is what too many black men live with every day. Non-blacks must listen, and begin to understand, and empathize in whatever ways possible to make this experience comprehendible. At times, all of us experience the powerless side of justice whether it's due to gender, sexual orientation, religious affiliation, language, able-bodiness or some other socially constructed category. We are all Trayvon Martin.
Secondly, we must begin trying to understand George Zimmerman. We must listen to those who feel afraid in their own neighborhoods, and who feel the need to empower themselves against all others. While there were reportedly incidents of crime in this Florida neighborhood, by most accounts, violent crime has been significantly declining in the U.S. for years. Yet, many Americans remain frightened, suspicious and concerned about those who are different and seem threatening. Fear is an omnipresent enemy for too many. We must listen and empathize however possible to make this fear comprehendible. All of us have experienced irrational fear and acted accordingly. We are George Zimmerman, too.
As a society, we must come to terms with both the cancerous issues of racism and fear. Our educational systems must begin doing a better job of providing young people the necessary tools to deal with social differences, and the background to better understand the social construction of these differences. We must do a better job of ensuring young people are interacting with many kinds of people different from themselves. And, our elected leaders, civic leaders, religious leaders, and educational leaders must do a better job of addressing the stratospheric levels of fear we live with every day, for no other reason than others appear different.
Was Trayvon Martin to be feared? Did his physical appearance tap into some socially constructed tendency in George Zimmerman? Did George ZImmerman's presence tap into some socially historical tendency in Trayvon Martin? In the end, perhaps these two people, alone on a dark, rainy night, represent long-festering, colossal social norms rooted in centuries of misbegotten stereotypes, prejudice and discrimination that continue to negatively affect us all. Sadly, as a result, the Martin family is confronted with an unbearable loss that time will never heal, the Zimmerman family is forever changed, and worse still, a young man lays dead. In his honor, let's commit to finding a better way.
Be kind to each other and to yourself.
© Copyright 2013 Douglas Layer, LMHC