Kim Parker, LCSW
Counseling, Coaching, and Consultation
Neither Black nor White: one social worker's response to the Martin/Zimmerman case blog by Kim Parker, July 17, 2013
As I follow the nationwide story of the shooting death of 17 year old Hispanic Trayvon Martinez by 27 year old half White, half Black George Zimmerman, I am struck by several things. The news and commentaries from various websites and news outlets seem to divide Americans into two distinct camps--either you are vehemently advocating "justice for Trayvon", or you are avidly defending the innocence of Zimmerman. These chants occurred before the trial took place, and even after the court rulings, with each side accusing the other side of being the racist. With all these divisions, often on racial tones, I could not help but think about the diverse clients I have gotten the privilege to work with over the last few years in my counseling office: black, brown, white, middle eastern, immigrants, long time citizens, Christian, Muslims, Atheists, Agnostics, single parents, divorced parents, blended families, traditional nuclear families, foster and adoptive families, etc... These people have taught me a great deal about how to be a better parent to my three bi-racial young boys.
Adults, especially parents, have a prime opportunity during this stressful time to role model to the next generation how they can cope with the controversies they will undoubtedly encounter in life. Here is a list of questions that parents can examine ourselves with:
1) Do we tend to make assumptions based on a limited set of facts, stories, and opinions?
2) Do we automatically jump to anger or fear?
3) Do we exhibit a pessimistic, "woe is me" attitude toward life?
4) Can we stay calm, collected, patient, and persevering until the truth comes out, or the crisis alleviates?
5) When "the truth" of the circumstances comes out, whatever that may be, can we make sense of it? Do we tend to accept it, or throw our hands up and pout?
6) Do we pre-judge and label others, especially those whom we don't understand or agree with?
7) Can we keep our strong emotions in check knowing that this is an unreliable source of evidence?
8) Can we see the positives in a human predicament--possibly entertain the idea that others might have some information that could persuade us to think and feel differently?
9) Can we learn new things still, or do we know everything there is to know, so we can now proceed to judge people as right or wrong, good or bad, black or white with no gray areas in between?
10) Do we want to be a part of the solution or part of the problem?
And lastly, can we adults rise above the vicious cycle of controversy? Strong emotions with careful thought and self control can be a good thing that leads society to make positive changes--such as the decade long painstaking civil rights movement lead by the cool headed Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. However, unchecked volatile feelings based on fear, anger, and short-sightedness can lead to impulsive, violent, and tragic behaviors. Instead of simplifying the complexity of the Martinez/Zimmerman conflict and quickly declaring our sides, can we teach our children that they can learn from this sad ordeal to handle life's many difficult dilemmas in a more beautiful, helpful, and healthy way thereby minimizing future tragedies?
From my life experience and professional work as a counselor, I believe that:
Pessimism -->fear/sadness <--> bitterness <--> unforgiveness ===>the power of anger
Optimism --> hope/joy <--> grace <--> forgiveness ===> the power of love
Both anger and love have power. Misplaced anger begets only more anger which begets more conflicts, and most likely more tragedies. Will this honor the death of a loved one? Will this heal the pain of his grieving parents? In contrast, choosing to give undeserved love (is there any other type?) begets more understanding and patience, which begets more forgiveness, which leads to more love, which ultimately produces more beauty and peace. A recent picture posted by celebrity Jennifer Hudson illustrates this message. Ms. Hudson, who also lost family members from gun violence, wrote about her instagram photo, "It's time to turn all of that into this !!!! LOVE," wearing a black t-shirt with the wordLOVE spelled out by carefully aligned guns and other weapons. Instead of being part of the problem by further dividing Americans on the complex issue of gun control, this poignant picture and message point us to our individual choice. In the midst of the wrongs, the grief, the mischaracterizations of people, we can all work to change our hearts from bitterness/anger to grace/love.
Trayvon was likely not a harmless angel, nor a violent juvenile delinquent, but a sinner – a human being who has imperfections/sins. George was likely not an evil murderer, nor a saintly charitable volunteer, but a sinner--a human being who has imperfections/sins.
Trayvon's supporters are angry because they believe him to be an innocent, angelic, unarmed boy who did nothing wrong. He was just minding his own business. He did not deserve to be unfairly and racially profiled, and definitely did not deserve to be shot to death.
George's side is angry because he was just doing his volunteer work--protecting his neighborhood from bad "thugs", which unfortunately led to an unwanted fight. This physical altercation forced him to use his gun to defend himself from being attacked to death. He did not deserve all this hatred, harsh judgment on his character, or threats to his life, as his supporters contend.
So where does the truth lie? As is said of so many human affairs, the truth probably lies somewhere in the middle. This is not to disrespect the two grieving families, since I am not saying that Trayvon deserves to be killed. Nor do I presume, however, to know that George deserves the "justice" that was supposedly not upheld by the recent court ruling. Even though I have closely followed the news coverage of this story from various sources over a period of months, I was not there at the scene or in the courtroom, and I still do not know all the facts. Like many Americans, I feel for both sides of this tragic situation. Yet, as a social worker working with the diverse American population for over 15 years, I have observed some things about human nature.
And that is how I will rise above the messiness of humanity to teach my children to bring more beauty into our human existence. I will not be stuck in the fruitless, pointless cycle of who was right and who was wrong? Who was the victim and who was the aggressor/victimizer? No, if I don't have to, I will not partake in the endless blaming of the other "evil bad guy", or inflict vengeance for some perceived wrong. In my humble opinion, neither does the dead one deserve death, nor the one who lived deserves life. We all do, and we all don't.
Sure, there is a need for boundaries, rules, and laws, just as much as there is a need to have a justice system that arbitrates on these violations. And I am grateful for those whose job is to try to make fair laws for everyone, those who interpret the laws as it relates to various human predicaments, and those who work to enforce the laws and do their jobs well. So, I am not advocating free love with no boundaries or consequences whatsoever. However, what I am suggesting is that adults can play a huge role in helping the world to be a better place to live in--despite the fact that human beings are innately flawed to imperfections (or sinful as some would say). When it comes to human affairs, we can bring up our children to stay above the fray of black or white, good guy or bad guy, innocent or guilty. We can model that it is okay to learn from our own mistakes and those of others, forgive ourselves and others, and hope for a better tomorrow. As the late Michael Jackson wrote about in one of his popular songs--Man in the Mirror-- that work needs to begin in ourselves first.
Oops--did I get the race of the two mixed up? Martin was Black and Zimmerman is White and Hispanic. The rest of the message remains the same.