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The Trayvon Martin Verdict Part 2

by Lewis Brogdon | Jul 31, 2013

Shannon Craigo-Snell, Professor of Theology, Louisville Seminary

The Price Is Too High

I enjoy the benefits of white privilege.  It is a pleasure to be well educated and economically stable. It is a delight to walk in the cool of the evening in my neighborhood. These joys are more readily available to me because of my identity as a white person. My ethnic heritage and my pale skin mean that I have had more opportunities, that doors open more easily for me, that the world is more lenient with my mistakes, and that no one ever thinks I look suspicious.

Yet the privilege I enjoy comes with a price. White privilege is the flip side of racial discrimination. The price of my privilege includes impoverished inner-city schools, rampant unemployment among African-Americans, and mass incarceration. It includes the daily degradation of black Americans who are followed by anxious clerks in department stores, stop-and-frisk policies in New York City, and Stand Your Ground laws in thirty states. Occasionally, the price includes the death of a child, such as Trayvon Martin.

The elegance of American racism is that, as a white person, I reap the rewards but someone else pays the price.

Of course, I should reject the high price even if someone else is footing the bill. But let’s be honest: I am a selfish person. Even with white privilege, life is still really hard and my days are full. My kids’ schools assign so much homework, my house needs repainting, and I’m trying to get more exercise.

But I am not only a white person. I am also a mother, a teacher, and a Christian. Accepting the structures of racism and the benefits of white privilege causes me personal harm in regards to these aspects of myself. I cannot be a good mother, a responsible teacher, or a faithful Christian while tacitly accepting racism in the United States.

It damages who I am as a mother for me to accept a system in which any child can be legally gunned down. I must betray myself to acquiesce to this. I cannot pretend to be a decent mother to my own children if I do not work to protect all children from harm.

To truly enjoy white privilege, I would have to ignore the mechanisms by which it functions. I would have to pretend that we live in a post-racial world with a level playing field, and the differences in outcomes for white and black Americans are based on merit. I would have to ignore the history of slavery and Jim Crow, the statistics regarding disparities in how laws are applied, the blunt realities of economic and educational inequality. While there appear to be members of the Supreme Court who can manage these intellectual gymnastics, I think my brain would split apart from the sheer incoherence of it all. Accepting the structures of racism in the United States would require me to sacrifice my own identity as a teacher, a scholar, and a logical person.

Finally, accepting white privilege does damage to who I am as a Christian. I believe that the meaning and value of my life stems from the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. If I agree that my well-being actually requires the ongoing suffering and sacrifice of African-Americans, then I am saying Jesus is not enough. To imagine that Trayvon Martin’s death is an acceptable price to pay for my privilege as a white person is to slap Jesus in the face. Jesus already died for me. I don’t need anybody else to.

African-Americans pay a high price for white privilege, but white people pay a price, too. It is a price of self-deception and self-distortion. The identities we choose for ourselves—in my case, those of mother, teacher, and Christian—are broken and betrayed. The price is too high.

Amy Plantinga Pauw, Henry P. Mobley Jr. Professor of Doctrinal Theology, Louisville Seminary

Through Her Eyes

My childhood friend Muslima has never taken her eye off the Trayvon Martin case. She is an African-American A.C.L.U. lawyer living in Florida. From the time of Trayvon Martin’s fatal shooting to the recent acquittal of George Zimmerman, this case has been on her radar screen. The failure of the justice system in responding to Trayvon Martin’s death hits close to home for her in multiple ways. As a white theologian living in Kentucky, I’d been following this tragic case at a distance. I knew I needed to get closer, and I did that by trying to see the case through my friend’s eyes. Not her eyes alone, of course. In the days following the verdict, I read numerous editorials by African-American journalists, paid attention to what African-American friends posted on Facebook, listened to the President’s thoughtful reflections. What they saw has shaped what I am able to see, and I am grateful for that.

To switch the metaphor, what we as Christians need to seek in situations of suffering and injustice is what King Solomon sought from God: a listening heart (1 Kings 3:9). Most of the suffering and injustice in the world will not be in our own family, our own neighborhood, or even our own country. It will not naturally hit “close to home.” What will move us to understand, to pray, and to act, will be listening to voices and seeing through eyes that are not our own.

Debra J. Mumford

Frank H. Caldwell Associate Professor of Homiletics and Associate Dean, Louisville Seminary

Trayvon Martin: Fearfully and Wonderfully Made

It was God who formed Trayvon’s inward parts.

God knit him together in Sybrina Fulton’s womb.

We praise God, for he was fearfully and wonderfully made.

Wonderful was God’s work.

Lamentable is society’s view that he was a social menace who needed to be eliminated.

When George Zimmerman saw Trayvon Martin walking through The Retreat at Twin Lakes in Sanford, Florida  on the night of February 26, 2012, he did not see him as a person who was fearfully and wonderfully made by God – like himself.  He saw Trayvon as a problem in need of a solution. Murder was his solution. A jury of six of Zimmerman’s peers agreed and exonerated him any guilt for his actions.

When the psalmist composed this passage, he did not intend it to be a witness to his own personal greatness. He was writing on behalf of a community of faith who truly believed that God was the creator of them all. They were all fearfully and wonderfully made and therefore were each wonderful works of God.

When I think of the Trayvon Martin’s murder and the injustice of a not guilty verdict, I can’t help but think of this Psalm. We live in a nation which many contend was founded on Judeo-Christian values. At least, many make this claim when they oppose such issues as abortion rights, women’s rights and gay rights. Yet, when it comes to guns laws and stand your ground laws, the right to bear arms trumps the right of every fearfully and wonderfully made person to pursue life without fear of being assaulted with a deadly weapon. 

In our Declaration of Independence we find echoes of this Psalm when we read that all are created equal, are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, and have the right to pursue life, liberty and happiness. This was the ideal. Yet even as this ideal was written, people of African descent were in chains, believed by the majority to be less than human. The Trayvon Martin case highlighted the fact that there are some people who still believe African Americans, in particular African American males, are less than human.

Stand Your Ground Laws give people who are looking for a reason to use their guns – permission to do so by eliminating the need to retreat in the face of what they perceive is in unlawful threat. For those who perceive African American males as the personification of “unlawful threat” these laws become a means to an end – to kill African American males. Unfortunately, with our current gun laws, the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness is contingent on the whims of those who use their right to bear arms to take life, steal liberty, and instill fear and hopelessness where happiness should be.

These laws should be repealed. As people of faith we should work to make sure our laws protect all of our citizens. We should contact our state and national representatives to have these laws repealed. We should also pressure them to institute stricter gun laws in general.

How different would our nation be if we actually treated everyone like the fearfully and wonderfully made persons they are? How different would the outcome of the encounter between Trayvon Martin and George Zimmerman have been, if Zimmerman actually believed that all people are fearfully and wonderfully made, even an African American kid, walking in a gated community at night carrying iced tea and Skittles? How different would the outcome have been if Zimmerman had watched the neighborhood to protect it from all threats of harm in general versus just threats he perceived from African American males in particular?

Let us not rest until justice is served for Trayvon Martin and laws are in place to protect us all from senseless gun violence. La luta continua!


Lewis Brogdon

          Lewis Brogdon is the
          Director of the Black
          Church Studies
          program at
          Louisville Seminary
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