“Could a greater miracle take place than for us to look through each other’s eyes for an instant?”
— Henry David Thoreau
When I say the name Trayvon Martin, what comes to mind? My experience has been that the name evokes some sort of reaction. For a significant number of folks, image that springs to mind is one of great injustice. For others, it quickly moves to the right for individuals to protect themselves even to the point of deadly force. Either way, it is clear that our country continues to be deeply divided on this and many issues.
Like most things that are so polarizing, the Trayvon Martin/George Zimmerman situation is one of perception, or — more aptly — misperception. We often carry judgment toward others deep in the recesses of our subconscious. In doing so, we group people together in ways based on this subconscious judgment that is usually inaccurate.
All “old people” are conservative, technologically inept and go to bed really early. If property is vandalized, it must have been done so by young people. I could go on. Every group or demographic has specific stereotypes projected upon them by others.
Unquestionably, one of the most damaging stereotypes are misperceptions and projections based on race. Let me graphically illustrate: I’m on a trip with a group of young people. I walk into a store behind a white 15-year-old girl and the white middle-aged store employee smiles and ask if she needs any help. Twenty minutes later, I walk in behind an African-American 15 year-old-girl who is not greeted, but instead is followed around the store. The contrast could not have been more blatant.
Ask any person of color, and they will tell you about racist encounters and experiences such as this. The good news is, as President Obama suggested in his impromptu news conference, younger generations are much less judgmental towards those who differ from them. For the rest of us, there is much individual and institutional work to move to the place where in our Baptismal Covenant we commit to truly “respect the dignity of every human being.”