Young Black Men

In my previous blog titled “Trayvon Martin” I had hoped to raise the question of what George Zimmerman saw that made Trayvon a “real suspicious guy” according to his police call.

Many responded with comments on my post that George Zimmerman couldn’t be racist because he took a black girl to prom, helped a black homeless man, tutored black kids and had a great grandfather that was black. I may respond to these specific “proofs” in a later blog.

But first, let me stick with the intent of the original blog. Maybe I wasn’t clear. Maybe people have their preconceived notions that need to be wrestled with some more.

To respond to people’s concerns, I do not believe that George Zimmerman was a flat out racist. Being racist would give the impression that a person hates someone else based solely on their race. I have no reason to believe this is the case with George Zimmerman. I believe that it was more than just the race of Trayvon that considered him to be a “real suspicious guy”. This is what I ask that we return our discussion to.

My guess of what made him a “real suspicious guy” to George Zimmerman was a factor of the following three things combined: Trayvon was 1) Young 2) Black 3) A Man. Each of these individually may not have caused much suspicion to George on that rainy night in February. But they were not individual realities. They were combined into one reality.

If George saw a black female walking through his neighborhood, he probably would not of viewed her as being “real suspicious”. If George saw a white teen, he probably would not of viewed him as being “real suspicious”. If George saw an older black man, he probably would not of viewed him as being “real suspicious”.  But George didn’t see those people. He saw a young, black man and he viewed him as “real suspicious”.

Sister, do you clench your purse tighter when you walk past a young black man down the street?

Brother, do you lock your car doors when you see a young black man crossing the street?

Police officer, are you more likely to pull over a car simply because it’s being driven by a young black man?

Store clerk, do you pay extra attention to a black young man who comes into your store?

These things are noticed and are painful to young black men.

Can we discuss the reality of this? Not just with Trayvon Martin but with thousands of young black men across this country? How do we create a culture that doesn’t view a specific group of our population as “real suspicious” but rather the following…

…“real promising”

…“real hopeful”

…“real valiant”

…“real courageous”

…“real brave”

What would you add to this list in describing young black men?

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About visionnehemiah

Servant of Jesus Christ. Husband of Heidi Dye. Elder at Legacy Fellowship. Mentorship Director at GRIP Outreach for Youth. Director of Legacy Conference.
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4 Responses to Young Black Men

  1. Anthony Kidd says:

    Brian, I appreciate the thrust of your post. I think you’re spot on as to the combining factors that led to Zimmerman’s reaction that day (only God truly knows). I would however suggest we think even more deeply about the fact that often “perceptions” are created by reality.

    I think we all perceive possible threats based upon generalized reality. Let me illustrate what I mean this way: Years ago brothers in the hood started breeding pit-bulls for fighting. After awhile there were a rash of maulings of children, attacks on people, even several deaths caused by packs of stray pit-bulls. As a result, pit-bulls gained a reputation as dangerous dogs, even though many of them made great family pets. Consequently, most people, including myself, became a bit “suspicious” and “fearful” when confronted with a pit-bull walking down the street. I would clutch my kids and pass another way if possible. The reality of all the harm these kinds of dogs had caused produced a perception which put people into protective mode–it’s a natural human reaction.

    Now I am in no way, shape, or form comparing young black men or anyone else to dogs. My point is to say, for right or for wrong, people develop perceptions based on reality. Now granted, people can have truncated and/or false views of reality, which produce silly and even dangerous perceptions, but the principle still stands. It’s part of the way humans navigate life.

    To your point then, young black men commit a disproportionately high rate of crime (especially violent crime) in our cities and that reality leads many to the “perception” of suspicion. Should Zimmerman have acted on that suspicion?, in my judgment no! But I think it’s time that we address more specifically and intentionally the need for us to change the reality instead of spending so much time, emotion, and outrage on the perception. That is to say, we need more people doing what you are doing–doing what Legacy is doing–doing what so many committed follows of Christ are doing in the urban centers of our Nation–doing what many black men are doing by marrying first and then having children–doing what many like you are doing in mentoring young cats life-on-life.

    I don’t have all the answers brother, but I hope maybe my thoughts here might spur more conversation about the essence of the problem, which we can actually do something about ourselves.

    • Cliff Nellis says:

      Dear Anthony,

      In the same spirit that you approached Brian’s blog, I’d like to suggest that we think even more deeply about the realities you discussed that cause the perceptions of suspicion. I’m curious to know what you believe are the causes of the statistics (realities) you referenced regarding young black youth committing more violent crime than others? For the time being, I’m going to assume those statistics are accurate, although I think those statistics can certainly be disputed as they are measured by the number of arrests made and the classifications of those offenses made by States Attorneys, whether improperly arrested or improperly classified as such, not actual instances of violence committed by all races. But for now, let’s assume that it is a fact that young black men commit more violent crime than youth of other races. In the effort of thinking more deeply about these realities, why do you think that is so?

      • Cliff Nellis says:

        In addition to your suggestion that young black men commit more violent crime, you also stated it is reality that young black men commit more crime in general. I’m assuming you are suggesting that young black men are committing more non-violent crime than youth of other races as well as violent crime. These would mostly be property crimes like theft and burglary as well as drug crimes. When it comes to drug crimes, you are skating on thin ice in the deep end of the pond to suggest that young black men use drugs more than youth of other races. I don’t believe there is any data that supports that claim as the studies I’ve read show that youth of all races use drugs at equal percentages. Despite this reality that youth of all races uses drugs equally, we know that young black men are arrested, charged and convicted under felony drug laws, and incarcerated at alarmingly higher rates than people of other races. Of course, with significant jail time and a permanent felony conviction comes even greater marginalization and struggle for young black men. A good book to read on this topic is “The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness,” by Michelle Alexander.

        It is precisely because the criminal justice system spends alarmingly disproportionate amounts of time, energy, and resources on targeting and incarcerating young black men that we cannot rely on arrest, conviction, and incarceration statistics to measure actual crime committed by all races. White people are not as likely to be reported, arrested, convicted, or sentenced, for example, under felony drug laws. This disparate treatment falsifies the data (falsifies reality) which then leads to false perceptions that are not based on realities, but lies or myths.

        I mention this because I’d be curious to know, in addition to your thoughts above about why you think young black men commit more violent crime, why do you think young black men commit more non-violent crime (property offenses and drug crimes). Once again, even assuming that is true (which I don’t think the data supports), why do you think this is so?

        Thank you, Cliff

  2. Cliff Nellis says:

    …”real people just like you and me”

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