Overcoming Stereotypes in America - The George Zimmerman Trial
Today, as we receive and digest the verdict in the George Zimmerman trial, our reaction to this verdict may be based less on authentic information concerning what took place in this particular instance ... and more on our impression of what the event which resulted in the death of Trayvon Martin 'looked like.'
We have lived with stereotypes for a long time in this country. It is part of the way in which our minds can work when they seek the easy understanding of something based on appearance, rather than a deeper understanding based on truth.
Stereotypes are typically applied to any group that we feel different from, any that is unfamiliar to us. They flourish when there is fear present on any level toward that group, and they diminish when a more deeply human and humane understanding is achieved concerning the common humanity that joins 'us' with 'them.'
Stereotypes have been present throughout all of America's history - toward the indigenous peoples already here when the British began colonization; toward the Spanish at another time in history; toward Americans of African descent; and toward many others.
Today, as we receive and digest the verdict in the George Zimmerman trial, our reaction to this verdict may be based less on authentic information concerning what took place in this particular instance, facts that the jury has had the greatest exposure to, and more on our impression of what the event which resulted in the death of Trayvon Martin 'looked like.' In this picture of an encounter between an adult white male concerned with neighborhood protection and a young black teen unknown to him, our minds can gravitate toward stereotypes.
We may feel the fear of young black men that many in this country feel. Or we may feel anger toward 'adult while males in authority.' We may anticipate in advance that the latter will be prejudiced toward young black men. In fact, we do not know what took place. Yet, it is easy to surmise through projection what might have happened, depending upon where we are with our own vulnerability to racial stereotyping.
Where we are, individually, determines in many respects how we view this very sad and now very notorious event. It determines where our sympathies are likely to lay, even without knowing much about the specific facts of the case.
We may ask why this is so. We may ask why we feel so much in this situation. Although the answer exists on many levels, in part, it is because America has unresolved issues concerning its inclination to stereotype, and particularly, concerning its inclination to stereotype along racial lines. Our laws have expanded the degree of equality accorded to each citizen of this nation, but social prejudice does not always follow in exact footstep behind the rule of law. Social prejudice operates within a sphere of privacy that allows people to retain partly concealed reservations about others or groups of others that they may, in reality, feel they should not have.
These private reservations cause restrictions in social interchange, in the formation of business associations, in community development, and in all walks of life create a feeling that one is more comfortable remaining 'with one's own.' Private reservations and private fears are easily projected onto the George Zimmerman case, and we may feel outraged or comforted by the verdict in this trial according to what we need to come to terms with in ourselves.
Our unresolved fears of certain groups of others and our unresolved feelings of being different from them are known to our deeper being, and so we wish to dispel these fears through our response to the verdict in this case. We wish to be set free by making this verdict 'come out right.'
America needs to be released from her fears and her prejudices. She needs to acknowledge what continues to be hidden in subtle ways as a willingness to live on the surface of things, to view people based on their appearance, not on the deeper qualities of humanity that they hold. This tendency to remain on the surface is the easy way of developing a sense of comfort in life. It is the easy way because it does not require of us that we look at and resolve a more complex set of feelings. And so we tell ourselves that we, ourselves, are free of stereotyping, even when we are not. We must become more honest.
When it happens that we are able to see and feel the common humanity within all, whether a black teen in a hoodie or an adult white male keeping a watchful eye over a neighborhood, we will set ourselves free and will set others free. At such time, the understanding of equality will move to a new level, and it will no longer be a legal ruling but will become a feeling in the heart that can be the foundation for a new way of life. For the foundation of equality is the recognition of the brother-sisterhood of men and women everywhere. It is based on the knowledge that all are created equally as children of the Divine, and that the outer appearance of someone does not detract or change their inner essential value, beauty, or worth. This sense of equality will overcome all stereotyping, for it will no longer allow perception to ride on the surface of things, but will accord to each living being the same understanding and love that one accords to the self.
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