Understanding Trayvon

I don’t understand the reaction to the Trayvon Martin story. This is probably the reason why.

It was the time of night in our small town when the only people who were out were either going in to work the graveyard shift or just up to no good. My friends and I were just up to no good. We spent the evening rearranging the letters on fast food signs and yelling in quiet neighborhoods. More prankster than gangster but still no good.

We were all crammed in my friend’s Honda Accord, prowling for our next opportunity to disturb the peace. We found what we were looking for in the McDonald’s parking lot. The restaurant was closing down and a worker was outside moving boxes into the freezer. We watched as he would grab a box from his cart and carry it into the freezer. Slowly. One box at a time.

One of my friends quietly stepped out of the car, walked over to the freezer and slammed the door shut, locking the worker inside.

Eventually we had had enough and decided to call it a night. Less than a mile from home a car sped up behind us. A police car. The best form of probable cause for a police officer is a car full of five guilty boys trying to act innocent. And so the blue lights came on and we pulled over.

I was sitting in the back seat wondering how I was going to get out of this one and what it would be like explaining to my cell mate that I was in for making the KFC sign say Free Krispy Rats.

The officer walked up to our car and asked if we knew why she pulled us over.

We played dumb, like we had been out all night passing out Bibles at the nursing home.

She filled us in.

“Well, there was a group of five young men in a Honda Accord exactly like this one who were causing a little trouble over at McDonald’s a few minutes ago. But we think it was five black men who did it. You’re free to go.”

And that was it.

I don’t know what it’s like to be pulled over because of my color. I don’t know what it’s like to be told to step out of the car and, for no particular reason other than the color of my skin, asked if I’ve taken any drugs. But I have friends who do. Friends who have stories completely different from mine.

Experiences like these shape the way we view the world. There’s no avoiding it. But these experiences don’t have to divide us.

I’m not surprised that people have different conclusions about the Trayvon Martin verdict. Different conclusions are good. It’s part of what makes our country tick. Well, at least it used to be. Now we just argue with each other in 140 characters or less.

Somewhere along the way we stopped talking to each other. We stopped taking the time to ask a real person why they think the way they do. There have always been differences between us but when we started letting the news do the thinking for us, our divisions grew. Exponentially.

If all we’re doing is listening to what the Reverend Al Sharpton, Nancy Grace or Sean Hannity have to say about race, we’re not really formulating an opinion. Instead, we’re just having our stereotypes reinforced. As a result, every white person who carries a gun is just another cowboy looking for a black person to shoot. Every black kid with a hood on is just another thug looking for the next liquor store to rob.

Most of the celebrities and talking heads commenting on this case care nothing about unity. They only want to be proven right. But as any married man can attest, sometimes you can win the argument but still lose the war.

When it comes to race in this country, we’ve been losing the war. For a long time.

So maybe we would be better off if we turned the TV off and went on a hunger strike of sorts, refusing to eat what the media is feeding us. What if, instead of caring about what they tell us to care about, we started actually talking to the people of other races in our own communities? What if, instead of clinging to our stereotypes and opinions, we decided to talk to a real life person on the other side of the ideological divide? We might find out that we’re not as right as we thought we were all along. Or maybe we’ll walk away more sure in our beliefs but with the realization that you can disagree with someone and still call him your friend.

I don’t understand the fallout from the Trayvon Martin verdict. It’s sad that a kid has died but it doesn’t make sense to me why his death stands out among the countless other deaths that happen in our country every day. But I refuse to look to Nancy Grace, Rush Limbaugh and Jesse Jackson for answers.

Those people and others like them will not help us at all when it comes to understanding other races. For that we have to take the time to sit down and talk to co-workers and neighbors of different races. We have to try to be their friend. And maybe we won’t agree on every issue, even the Trayvon issue.

But who said friends always have to agree?