#TRAYVONMARTIN WAS NOT THE FIRST, not by a long shot (or noose). This is a hard post for me, but please share it. I offer insight into this old repeating problem and how it can be stopped.
I am white. But I was a child in segregated times in Florida. The recent racist vigilante shooting of the unarmed black teen in Florida echoes so many historical events that I am compelled to share this very disturbing historical account (see PDF at http://db.tt/yovzx1Zj
). It gives context for those who are alarmed by the recent tragedy and are wondering how to prevent repeats of it.
In 1926, only 86 years ago, my grandfather in LaBelle, Florida, worked to bring to justice a group of his white townspeople whose quick-trigger fearful ignorance led them to attack and kill an innocent young black man with alarming violence. The frantic man called for help but got none. The police dutifully avoided upholding justice. Only widespread outrage could turn things around. Sound familiar?
Please read this article. Though it's a bit academic and wades through similar atrocities before the LaBelle lynching, all of it is illuminating context for this recent tragedy.
I'm proud to be named after my grandfather Frank Watts Hall (F. Watts Hall in the article). He did the right thing, but at tremendous social cost in that frontier town in steamy southwest Florida that he worked so hard to make civil and prosperous. The black workers had been brought in to build the main highway, still in use today, which I've traveled many times. But the workers were given little water under the sweltering sun. So one young black man decided to go to a nearby house to ask for water. The white housewife, fearful on seeing a black man approaching, screamed and ran into the street. What happened next is one of the most horrifically brutal pages of Florida's history.
This all brings back my own memories of growing up in segregated Florida. As a white child I wondered at the gas stations that all had 3 restrooms: Women, Men... and Colored, as if non-whites weren't Women or Men. And one hot day at the kids park I drank from the child-level fountain, and heard a black boy my age asking his parents if he could have a drink, too. They told him no, he couldn't, and took him off to a less-convenient, dingy adult
level fountain marked Colored. They had to lift him up so he could drink. That's when I realized that "my" shiny clean fountain, and the similar adult one beside it, were marked Whites. That boy and I, standing in a frozen moment I am sure he remembers long afterwards just as I do, looked at each other in mutual amazement. We were mystified why I could drink at the child's fountain but he could not, and realizing that something deep and ominous had just revealed itself about our society -
and our personal futures.
My parents did not speak like racists, and were far more educated and liberal than our neighbors. Yet sadly I also remember learning from them to fear blacks as I grew up, noticing that whenever they drove through the "Colored" part of town, they quickly locked all the car doors. Trivial? Perhaps, but the lesson sank deep -- children are instinctively tuned to learn what frightens their parents. I have since moved away, matured and become what I consider notably non-racist and tolerant of social differences. Yet sometimes I still hear deep down inside me -- muffled by my decades of hard work and soul-searching to overcome it -- the faint sound of car doors locking when I unexpectedly encounter a group of blacks. I'm not proud of that. Nor should anyone be. I'm still working at it. So should we all. We all have it in some form.
So the thought I want to leave you with is this: The things we are taught young by our parents are the hardest things to unlearn. The way we remove fear from our children's future is to show them that we live -- ourselves -- without social walls or fear of social differences.
The more that we express hate or fear, or gate our communities, or shun those we deem unworthy, or hide and separate ourselves from those who are inconveniently different from us, the more fatal ignorance we grow into ourselves and others. And the more that we show our children that we fear those different people, the more we embed that fear so deep into them that a lifetime of self-work and good will may never remove it. And that is what generates, in our society and in our future, repetitions of ominous tragedies such as Trayvan Martin's killing.
My wife's sage grandfather said it best. He came over from Norway, and his meaty fists helped keep the Klu Klux Klan out of his small Iowa farming town in the 1930's. When I met him he was 92, and I told him how happy I was that his Norwegian-descent granddaughter was marrying me, a descendant of people who came over on the Mayflower as well as from the natives who were already here when they arrived. I felt that my new family would live as Citizens of the Planet.
He smiled at me and said simply, "We will all be One some day."
So that is how I feel we should live and teach our children:
We will all be One some day.
One. Indeed, that is the only thing that will save Humanity from its embedded fear and inhumanity.