A letter I recently wrote in response to the debate following the George Zimmerman case:
I felt it necessary to take a moment and explain to you why I felt so impassioned the other day I felt it necessary to walk away from the conversation.
First, I will have to back up and explain a little bit about myself. In doing so, however, I must share aspects of my person I’ve never shared with anyone save my mother. When I first realized I must be gay, I fought tooth and nail for several years of my young life. I prayed (this was back when I believed a God could somehow miraculously change my measly circumstances) everyday to change my true self for fear of having to expose myself to society. You see, during those years I made the transition from the happy helm of rich, prosperous, happy middle-America to the dark and lonesome depths that are the margins of This American Life. I no longer felt the joy and vigor that once dominated my life. Instead I turned to fear and anxiety; as a result I became plagued by a crippling sense of inadequacy. No longer was I allowed to participate in “this American life” for no longer did I share the values, characteristics, and well defined criteria by which humans in America are permitted into the true heart of American culture. I felt demonized by the very people who were claiming to love and care for my “eternal soul.” But in a sense, I was lucky.
I was lucky to escape from organized religion. I was lucky to escape the widespread apathy that dominates the everyday experience of most humans. I was lucky to gain a new view of American culture-and much more poignantly human behavior as a whole. No longer was I forced to share the ethnocentric views rampant in the Midwest. Alas this escape from normalcy came at a great price to my own mental health and sanity. Not a day goes by I don’t feel sick to my stomach when I consider the true conditions of the human experience. Whether it is the starving Nigerians submersed in more corruption and systematic manipulation by the “White powers of the world” or the poor Afghan civilians trying to establish peace and stability in their everyday lives amidst the constant turmoil of religious extremists and oil hungry nations destroying their land in a constant pursuit of “nothingness.” Sadly, examples such as these do not necessarily force us to leave American soil.
American history is marred by the longstanding, systematic discrimination in place that subjects the American minority to a way of life not shared by most. Of course, what I describe is neither subjective nor anecdotal, but merely a simple interpretation of the data. I have studied many aspects of this gruesome tale and could speak for hours about the long history of the criminalization of LGBT people in America. But sadly this is not the only group to share in this pattern. African American culture in America is far different than White culture simply by the tracing of history and the results it has established. There is a grossly imbalanced framework at work in America that has been established by a long history of events and people. Many events can be traced to recent presidents such as Reagan who in his own statements can be seen as completely removed from understanding what it is to be in the margins of society. But alas the biggest problems transcend the more recent events in human history and date back far before either of us.
We are not a free country. Not in a true sense. The people in this country who are free are the people that the majority has decided it will permit to be free. The rest of us? Abandoned.
Why would I care so much about Trayvon Martin? Perhaps it is best that I first admit that I care nothing for the national trial that took place acquitting George Zimmerman for Trayvon’s wrongful death. Trials are manipulative and it was already clear to me that unfair manipulation of Trayvon Martin’s character was being employed to somehow justify his murder. During the course of the trial, Trayvon Martin’s juvenile record, a sealed document, was permitted into court simply to try to portray him as a “thug” or something else equivalent of no longer deserving life in a morally upstanding America. A history of suspensions from school—a result of truancy and tardiness, graffiti, and supposed jewelry theft from his past—was used unfairly to paint a misleading character portrayal. Only in a state like Florida would a judge have permitted this into evidece for it is highly unusual.
But here is the kicker—I don’t care about what Trayvon Martin did as a young high school student. I don’t care about what he was doing in the rain that night eating a bag of Skittles. Even though he was staying with his father’s fiancee and could not have possibly been responsible for any of the three burglaries in the area that spurred a neighborhood watch to have been formed in the first place, I don’t care if he was a burglar. I care that in the state of Florida, a man felt justified in following a 17-year old student, carrying a deadly weapon, with no other qualification than being a self appointed “neighborhood watch.”
I began following this story, as did many, in February when it was discovered that the Sanford County Police Department was not going to press charges against George Zimmerman, a highly unusual occurrence from a legal point of view, as typically when one pleads self-defense they must make a case for it, not the other way around. I cannot reasonably follow how the antagonist can possibly be employing self-defense when he chose to pursue Trayvon Martin. Trayvon Martin was being followed and he chose to stick up for himself and proceeded to assault George Zimmerman, a decision I stand by and applaud him for. I find it hard to follow that the same advocates for “stand your ground laws” do not applaud Trayvon Martin for “standing his ground.”
So why was I so upset that you did not share my view on the case? First of all, let me inform you that my decision to walk away was not one I made out of disrespect—but rather out of respect. I have followed politics and current events very closely since I was a senior in high school and I usually find it very refreshing when you come to visit because finally I can share with someone who not only follows important events very closely, but usually holds the same progressive views as myself on the issues. My family, while great endorsers of progressive and liberal policies, simply do not follow current events. However, I found myself incredibly offended by your portrayal of the Martin family. You offered that she in fact spoke a different language and was a big lipped low class “nigger.” My stomach was turned when the story you presented was the exact same narrative FOX NEWS has been trying to sell since the event transpired in February. I know I do not have to impress upon you the dangers of an organization like Fox News. In mentioning CNN, you may have exposed a generational difference between us. I reject mainstream media as a purely draconian manifestation of corporate America’s desire to shape and control the story of current events. My sources are primarily online. I follow some more new age sources of information that are not controlled by Corporations but rather people, behind computers, not afraid to speak the truth for fear of being fired, something that happened at CNN and happens all the time when journalists actually do “true journalism.” I do listen to NPR almost constantly and I do watch programs such as Real Time with Bill Maher and comedy programs such as John Stewart and Stephen Colbert. I also have a lot of respect for specific journalists and news commentators such as Rachel Maddow, Anderson Cooper, Fareed Zakaria, and many others. But I do not follow the institution of 24-hour news commentary programs such as CNN, MSNBC, or Fox News due to the very nature of their business.
While all of that may or may not be true, I can’t help but feel that it is completely inconsequential in discussing the fate of George Zimmerman. Although someone may be uneducated, poor, and aggressively offensive, that does not somehow permit injustice to thrive. No matter what the quality of life shared by the Martin family, it should not relieve the gross injustices committed by the Sanford County Police Department.
I take this moment to diverge for a moment, if you will allow, and remark that this particular police department (not unlike most other police departments in the South) has a long rampant history of racial prejudice against blacks specifically. This history was revealed and the prosecutor that chose not to bring up charges against Zimmerman was relieved and a new prosecutor was brought in to take the reigns. This came as a result of the widespread protesting that occurred in the “blog o sphere” and in the streets in Florida. The injustice began with the police department but served as a metaphor for the attitudes many people still share.
As I am sure you are aware, the Supreme Court recently struck down Section IV of the Voting Rights Act. In reading Justice Scalia’s opinion it is clear that a large portion of Americans truly believe that we live in a post-racial America. I was more moved by Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s scathing dissent. She correctly informed the American public that race relations in the South are still incredibly volatile and sited several extreme examples from the last election. Already, Texas and many other states are moving forward with their extreme voter ID laws. As an out of state student, I can assure you these laws are directed as students, minorities, and predominantly Democratic voters. As a result of Florida’s new ID laws and Rick Scott’s (the governor of Florida) purposefully discriminatory voting procedures, I was almost unable to vote and I know many people who were completely unable to vote.
After you left my mom and I had a great conversation and she asked me why I think blacks seem to be committing more crimes that whites. On the surface, this seems like a perfectly reasonable question to ask. The data does suggest that something inherent in blacks is more aggressive, violent, and somehow illegal than in whites. However, with a little more data from the field of sociology we come to understand that it is not black people who are more inclined to commit crimes and suffer from ignorance, but rather it is poor people who are so compelled to behave in such a way. The real question then becomes why are the majority of the impoverished made up of blacks? In the United States, based on the most recent data, the distribution of the poor consists of 13% White compared to a staggering 35% Black. And in Florida it is 13% to 36%. So truly we have to question the system in place to create such astounding distributions. Well, it is not too hard to trace the causes of such inequality. If we consider post-slavery mentality, unfunded social programs, deep urban segregation of whites and blacks, economically biased factors that favor whites over blacks, and many many more social issues we see there is a deep problem still resounding loudly in America.
This problem is illustrated best by the comments you can hear coming from the Fort Zumwalt School District regarding the recent decision by the Missouri Supreme Court to allow all students an opportunity to attend an accredited school district. Parents fear the influx of predominantly African American students from St. Louis into their perfect school out of pure ignorance of the social structure in place. People blame the kids themselves, or the parents, or even the race itself, but never does anyone stop to blame the more global issue at work in America. There is a system of inequality in place. A system that continues to push one group out so another group may have all the opportunities and privileges of a “free America.”
My mom once told me that she is no different than anyone else so if she was able to escape the shackles of poverty and work hard to make a better life for herself, then why can’t these “other people.” Unfortunately, the analogy breaks down based on the condition that simply by being white, one who decides to fight for their life is applauded—culturally—as opposed to one who is black and tries the same thing is met with certain resistance at every level. We frequently refer to Jim, your shared brother, as an example of what pure poverty can establish. Drug addiction, abandonment, and debilitating ignorance are just several of the factors associated with poverty. However, when you take the same person who has failed amid his/her conditions in poverty and place them among the well to-do, the results are staggering. A person that society has completely writte off as “lazy,” “unmotivated,” or even “unworthy,” becomes a middle class average Joe with a decent job under the same circumstances as the well to-do. Therefore, it should not be an expectation that those on the bottom most rung of society should necessarily find it within themselves to climb, but rather it should be applauded when someone is able to do just that against very challenging odds. My concern is the system in place that forces this mentality.
American capitalism has shifted. With more and more power—both politically and economically—shifted to the top 1% of America, the middle class is being pushed downward overwhelmingly. I fear that many people—predominantly white of course—may soon fall to the place their black brethren were born into and realize the fallacy of their “work hard” argument.
Trayvon Martin was important to me because it exposed the racial tensions that still deride our country. Police arrived two minutes after George Zimmerman and Trayvon Martin had their conflict. Two minutes. That is not surprising at all. George Zimmerman knew the police would be there soon, but he also knew that when they arrived, Trayvon would not be charged with anything. See, Zimmerman knew he was acting on gut impulse. He referred to Travon as “one of them,” claiming “they” always get away with “it.” What was the “they” and “it” Zimmerman was referring to if not his own personal manifestation of what Trayvon was, a result of all of the connotations associated with a teenage black male sitting in the rain in a gated predominantly white community in America. The fact is that Trayvon was a guest in that community and so any personal connotations and devices Zimmerman used to persuade himself to follow Trayvon, were the result of Trayvon’s appearance, his symbolic presence of that which Zimmerman “filled in the gaps.” Under Florida law, Zimmerman was innocent. I’m not arguing that. Florida has outrageous “stand your ground” laws that permit gun owners the freedom to do much more than should be legally tolerated in a “free country.” So even though Zimmerman pursued Trayvon, he was justified in using deadly force since Trayvon chose to stand up for himself. I am not trying to paint Trayvon as some sort of saint because that would be as equally disingenuous as painting Zimmerman as a cold blooded murdered. Alas, it is not that simple. This case is a clear exposition of the corrupt framework within which racial relations have had to develop here in America. The gross injustice is not that Zimmerman was aquitted, it’s that a young innocent black man, born into a system so plagued with corruption and inequality, lost his life. That is the true injustice and we as a country should be discussing what can be done to end police discrimination, what can be done to prompt Congress to pass a new formula to be used under Section IV of the Voting Rights Act, and how we can applaud racial integration in predominantly white, successful school districts such as Fort Zumwalt.
My heart yearns for the disenfranchised, the marginalized, and the systematically “lesser” peoples in this country, and in all countries. I care very little for Trayvon Martin and George Zimmerman specifically, and instead wish instances such as these would be enough to shake the apathy of this American life to prompt real discussion about the deep seeded issues still halting a totally free America.
I do hope that having typed this letter is not an offense to you, as I am merely of the “computer generation” and find it far easier to express myself via this medium. I welcome hand-written notes and letters but am simply far more inclined to utilize current technology in expressing myself. I fear that it would have been far more disingenuous had I written this letter instead.
I consider you to be a fellow employer of rationality and logic. A champion of truth not fantasy. As a fellow atheist I know you understand the dangers of anecdotes and stories, such is why I cared very little for the actual case against George Zimmerman and instead chose to focus on the system in place that allowed this situation to transpire. I believe in the truth, not my truth or your truth or the truth that the many heards of religious men and women would like me to believe, but rather THE TRUTH. The pure unabated facts and figures that promote and prosper genuine discussion.
I apologize for the length of this and if you read this in its entirety then I truly appreciate your respect for my opinion. I cherish you and respect you which is why I felt it necessary to express myself in this way. I know you do not like the computer very much, but if you ever decided to create a Facebook account or an email address I would love to have continued correspondence, even if via snail mail :)
I recently saw the newest Pixar film, Monsters University. While the film is in itself a cute experience, it portrays a powerful message, one that Steve Jobs himself would be proud of.
The movie is set as a prequel to Monsters Inc., Pixar’s highly successful film in which characters Mike and Sullivan work as “scarers” to collect scream energy to power their civilization. The newest film, Monsters U, is the journey Mike and Sully took to get there.
Mike and Sully enroll in Monsters University and immediately begin the university’s “Scarer Program” to become great scarers. Soon into the film, however, the Dean removes the two from the program for lacking that which she claims cannot be taught, the true essence of a Scarer- I.e. being truly scary.
Mile serves as an icon of what college truly should be, a tool. He is so determined to become a Scarer that he sets out to prove the Dean wrong. Ultimately, his work is not enough and he is forced to leave the school with no degree and no prestige that having a diploma would’ve provided him. But that isn’t enough to stop him.
Steve Jobs realized something that most people have seem to forgotten. College is merely a tool through which a passionate person may pursue his/her dreams-but college is not for everyone. What works for some may not work for others but this shouldn’t be a deterrent to pursuing what you truly love and are passionate about.
Steve Jobs dropped out of college and went on to become the CEO of the two now famous companies, Apple Inc, and Pixar Studios. See, college was not the avenue for him but rather than accept defeat he pursued his dreams independently and ultimately his passion and hard work drove him to great success.
I believe a college education with no passion is equivalent to no diploma at all. Truly college may be used as a tool to pursue, but not a guarantee of success. I believe this newest film is a powerful tribute to what Steve Jobs stood for and I’m happy to see this message being propagated. Remember, college is but one avenue to your desired future. In the end, hard work, determination, and sheer love of what you do is the true propellant in life.
Who is he?
In 1964, Larisa Latynina, the Soviet gymnast, became the most decorated Olympian of all time. On July 31, 2012 a new athlete would usurp the throne of most Olympic medals. That athlete: Michael Phelps. Michael Phelps is essentially a god of gods among athletes and has proven the unstoppable power of sheer determination and focus. Let’s take a moment to consider each of his Olympic Medals:
2004 Summer Olympics - Athens, Greece
#01: 400m IM - GOLD
#02: 4x100m Freestyle Relay - BRONZE
#03: 200m Freestyle - BRONZE
#04: 200m Butterfly - GOLD
#05: 4x200m Freestyle Relay - GOLD
#06: 200m IM - GOLD
#07: 100m Butterfly - GOLD
#08:4x100m Medley Relay - GOLD
2008 Summer Olympics - Beijing, China
#09: 400m IM - GOLD
#10: 4x100m Freestyle Relay - GOLD
#11: 200m Freestyle - GOLD
#12: 200m Butterfly - GOLD
#13: 4x200m Freestyle Relay - GOLD
#14: 200m IM - GOLD
#15: 100m Butterfly - GOLD
#16: 4x100m Medley Relay - GOLD
2012 Summer Olympics - London, UK
#17: 4x100m Freestyle Relay - SILVER
#18: 200m Butterfly - SILVER
#19: 4x200m Freestyle Relay - GOLD
#20: 200m IM - GOLD
#21: 100m Butterfly - GOLD
#22: 4x100m Medley Relay - GOLD
A special shade of black you said
has spilled upon your days
as if the world up and abandoned
olden polished golden ways
But the bakery air creeps everywhere
and birds still own the trees
The cinema’s still screening
all the lies we still believe
The headboards are still rattling
while the tortured still churn art
Whatever happened to the world
has happened to your heart
Recently, Dan Cathy, President and CEO of Chick-fil-A made some rather disparaging comments about marriage equality and homosexuality in America. Also, the company is now under scrutiny for some of the donations it has made to organizations considered by many to be hate groups. I feel I must respond.
Why does this matter? Why does what one CEO says about his own personal religious beliefs matter so much to so many people? Many people defend Cathy under the pretense of freedom of speech. But here’s the problem: Nobody is arguing that Cathy shouldn’t be allowed to say what he said, many people are simply using their own powers of freedom of speech to try to rectify his comments so that our neighbors, our brothers and sisters, our friends and loved ones might feel supported among such a personal public debate.
Some of the groups Chick-fil-A has given money to, including Exodus International, participate in gay reparative therapy. It is important to recognize the kind of harm groups like Exodus International are doing to our youth. Gay reparative therapy has been deemed “psychologically abusive” by the APA and every major psychological association in the world. When a company goes beyond free speech and actively participates in the degradation of our youth, we as a morally responsible society must object. We as progressive Americans might use our power of free speech to actively reject this ideology flooding the nation. The notion that gays are somehow immoralizing this country and shaking a fist at God, (Cathy’s words, not mine), is something young people all over the world hear and then take incredibly personally. I will support free speech but I will never support a business that is participating in this negative self-imagery of our fellow human beings when we have an epidemic in this country of youth committing suicide over having to come out in this country. Political statements and actions Dan Cathy is engaging in reinforce the doctrine of the “immoral gay.”
Its easy to brush this whole thing off when you are not currently a member of the marginalized society. But public sentiment and policy largely affects the growth and development of every member emotionally and intellectually. Youth do not have the freedom to take responsibility of their own actions both legally and emotionally under the strict rule of authoritarian parents who discourage and abhor anything non-traditional.
I want to explain why this is such a fiery issue for me and so many others. It is easy for many people to dismiss this as an inconsequential statement from a successful business owner about his own religious beliefs. But it is so much more than that. This transcends the daily subjective routine of the individual, this is about public policy in America. I have struggled with emotional freedom and I am lucky to have overcome. But I had support. Without the invaluable support from my mother and close family, I would not be here today, guaranteed. I have battled crippling depression and anxiety and still do. Most people cannot subscribe to the feeling of walking into a room and being so consumed with fear that someone might discover you’re gay that you simply do not speak. Being so scared of being rejected that you avoid your family, your friends, and even yourself. At the age of identity v role confusion, it is imperative we find and define ourselves positively. However, we cannot in a country that de-legitimatizes people for their sexual orientation. I am lucky and I was able to discover my own identity and escape the oppression this demographic forces, I got away. But most are not that lucky, so when comments like this become mainstream, it is imperative everyone come together and show their support for such a tender slice of our society. What is more important is that people we “love” come to support us and hold us up in these trying times. I urge you to reject the subjective response and analyze the objectivity of this public debate.
Remember, your young nephew or child or brother or sister may be listening to these comments. How will you respond? Will you take your child to Chick-fil-A and support the politics of this? Or will you patronize a less hateful restaurant and show your support for the people you love?