Over the last 10 years I have taught sociology on and off at Nashville State Community College (NSCC) in Nashville, Tennessee. The majority of students at NSCC are African-American. I guess, over the years I have had at least 1,000 students and at least 200 of them have been African-American men. Regardless of the actual number, I can tell you that 100% of my black-male students have stories about being pulled over by the police for no other reason than “driving while black,” being followed as they walk through the mall or department stores, and being stereotyped as a thug, for no other reason then the clothes they wear. One of my students, a black-male attending an Ivy League school but taking my class over summer break, loved wearing a t-shirt that on the front said, “I am your worse nightmare” and then on the back it read, “I am an educated black man.” It was his way of saying, “Don’t stereotype me because I am black, athletic, and wear dreadlocks.”
He is right.
Consider these facts:
- There are more black men in prison today (or under the watch care of the criminal justice system) then were enslaved in 1850 (Michelle Alexander, Ohio State University law professor and author of The New Jim Crow: Mass in the Age of Colorblindness, 2010)
- African-Americans make up 13.6% of the U.S. population but 40.2% of all prison inmates (2010 census data)
- 1:15 black males ages 18 or older are incarcerated; compared to 1:106 white males (ACLU)
- 1:3 black males can expect to go to prison at some point in their life (Bureau of Justice Statistics)
Those stats are just the tip of the iceberg. Blacks (especially males) are suspended and expelled from school at a higher rate than whites and other ethnicities and are more likely to be unemployed.
Is it all about race? No. There are other sociological factors like poverty, lack of education, and the absence of fathers that play a part. However, because the stats are so out of proportion, race does play a big role in what is taking place.
And that is where Travyon Martin comes in to play. Regardless of what other people think, in the black community, this is another episode of racial profiling gone bad, and it is based on a clear history of racism and discrimination.
If it had been a black person shooting another black person, sadly, no one would have noticed.
If it had been a black person shooting a white person, there would have been an arrest first and then a looking at the evidence.
But, since it was a person with one white parent and one hispanic parent, shooting a black male, and because it happened in a gated community, the shooter was given the benefit of the doubt and another unarmed black male is dead.
The entire situation is horrible. Not all the facts are known. There are no winners. Tensions will remain high for quite some time. But somehow, through the tension and chaos, we need to listen to what the black community is saying, and we need to come together to try and heal the racial divide that still exist in our country.
That’s my take on the Trayvon Martin saga.
My prayers are with both the Martin family and the Zimmerman family. My prayers are also with my country.