Busted Halo
feature: politics & culture
April 13th, 2012

‘I Am Trayvon Martin’

 
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This image was designed by LaShonda Anderson used with her permission.

“I am Trayvon Martin!”

This has been the rallying cry of so many people (Black and other races too) since the shooting of an unarmed 17-year-old African-American teenager by a neighborhood watch volunteer in a suburb outside Orlando, Florida. The watchman, George Zimmerman, claimed self-defense and said he pursued the young black teenager because he looked “suspicious.” This has resulted in an outcry from the black community, and other supporters, asking for justice.

This lack of respect for black male life seems to be a bad story repeated throughout the history of this country. Stereotyping, prejudice, and racism are nothing new to our community (or to other minority groups either), but when a national tragedy such as this occurs, another level of despair occurs in our communities. Too many times there are “Trayvon Martins” out there whose stories are never told. These events divide us along racial, political, and socioeconomic lines. Racism is the “elephant in the room” that we don’t like to discuss, and when it comes up, it stirs up emotions on all sides.

At the heart of this issue is stereotyping. People who are not regularly subjected to stereotyping never really understand why it is such a big deal. Take this example — following the devastation of Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans, the Associated Press released two photos separately showing a white couple and a young black man traveling through a flooded street in New Orleans. The caption under the photo with the white couple said they were “finding” food at a local grocery store. The caption under the black man said he was “looting” food at a grocery story. Why the difference if they were in the same situation trying to achieve the same goal — survival? The only difference was the color of their skin. Too many times stereotypes drive us to perceive others differently and this leads to differential, and at times, unjust treatment. We tend to look at one another as objects and not as human beings created in the image of God.

Racism in the Church

It is never easy to discuss or talk about racism. But everyone does talk about it within their own racial groups. It is something that affects us all, whether directly or indirectly. We, especially as a Catholic Church, need to be able to share our hurts and challenges.

Unfortunately, the evil of racism is still working within our Church as well. I say this because I love my Church enough to challenge it. I want to work with others so that our Church becomes all that we want it to be.

After Hurricane Katrina, many youth in my youth ministry and I were evacuated to Houston, Texas. We are from a majority black Catholic church, but while we were evacuated, the closest Catholic church was a majority white church. It was apparent that we were making the regular parishioners uncomfortable from the looks and stares we received. Also, during the sign of peace and the Our Father, none of the parishioners would shake or hold our hands.

Another, more recent incident occurred about a year ago. As an Archdiocesan employee, I was asked to go to one of our local white parishes to set up early for a meeting. Even though I was in a shirt and tie, I was interrogated about how I got a copy of the key to the hall. It wasn’t until one of our white volunteers showed up and said the exact same thing that I had said that we were left alone to go about our business. People of other minority groups have expressed having the same experiences. Now, I know that not all parishes would react like this, but the fact that this has happened, and continues to happen, many more times than we would like to admit or can document, shows that we still have work to do to improve race relations as a Catholic family. Even now, our courageous local archbishop has asked our parishes to pray our “Family Prayer,” which asks us to fight the New Battle of New Orleans against murder, violence, and racism.

Church teachings on racism

The Church has produced many documents over the past half-century in regards to racism. Here’s a quick look at three of them:

Discrimination and the Christian Conscience (1958) followed the 1954 Supreme Court decision Brown v. Topeka Board of Education calling for the desegregation of school systems and other instances of racial segregation at the time. The basic conclusion in this document was that Christians cannot support segregation because it’s inconsistent with Christian views. In other words, we cannot treat the human person as “inferior.” The problem with this document was that it made no specific recommendations in regards to action.
• In 1968 the bishops released a new statement on racism entitled The National Race Crisis in response to the mounting racial tensions of the Civil Rights Movement and the assassination of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
• In 1979, the bishops released their next statement on racism, Brothers and Sisters to Us, which looked at how racism is a part of our personal lives and social and even church institutions. The document included recommendations for action.

And more still needs to be done to address issues of racism in the Church. As our bishops have stated, we need to move toward loving one another as humans and not demeaning one another based on what we look like or where we come from. (A recommended resource: Bryan Massingale’s book, Racial Justice and the Catholic Church, which looks in detail at how our church’s bishops have attempted to address the sin of racism over the past half-century.)

It is never easy to discuss or talk about racism. But everyone does talk about it within their own racial groups. It is something that affects us all, whether directly or indirectly. We, especially as a Catholic Church, need to be able to share our hurts and challenges. People that benefit from society’s social structures and institutions may not see the necessity of addressing this issue, but as long as one part of the Body of Christ is affected, we all are. Only when we truly challenge the norms that may cause divisions (on both sides) will we be able to come together as the loving Church that we were created to be. We must put aside our stereotypes and fears and look at one another as brothers and sisters made in the image of God.

One of us

The black community, and those that support it, are particularly outraged by the Trayvon Martin shooting because this young man could have easily been any one of our sons, grandsons, cousins, nephews, youth ministry kids, etc., but the fact that some of us cannot express our frustrations about this issue, and the constant stereotyping that we face, leads to the distrust and continued divisions that separate us now. We are called to see the value and dignity of human life and make sure that the world provides a place where we all are treated like children of God, even George Zimmerman.

It is not easy to see the value of a person when he/she hurt us or make us feel uncomfortable. We have all been stereotyped in some way. It is just that some have been stereotyped more than others, and their whole way of life has been affected. We must all challenge these notions and remember who we are, and more importantly whose we are.

 
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The Author : Dr. Ansel Augustine
Dr. Ansel Augustine is the director of the Office of Black Catholic Ministries for the Archdiocese of New Orleans. He is also on the faculty of the Institute of Black Catholic Studies at Xavier University of Louisiana. Ansel has worked in ministry for more than 15 years and has a master’s degree in pastoral studies from Loyola University’s Institute for Ministry, a certificate in youth ministry from Xavier University’s Institute for Black Catholic Studies, and a Doctor of Ministry degree.
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Please note that the editorial staff reserves the right to not post comments it deems to be inappropriate and/or malicious in nature, as well as edit comments for length, clarity and fairness.
  • Paul

    What is a white parish?

  • Lorraine Lyles

    Ansel
    As the Director of the Office of Black Catholic Ministry of the Diocese of Palm Beach, I applaud you for “Stepping Out On Faith” and writing this article on Trayvon Martin and the problems of Racism in our Country and the Catholic Church. You are a young man to be admired and I wish I and others would have had the courage to speak out on this issue the way you did in this article. I also love the quote at the end of your emails which reads: “Stop whining to God about how big your Storms are, and Start SHOUTING to your Storms about how Big your God IS”. Ansel continue to allow God to use you as His instrument of PEACE!
    Lorraine

  • LDS

    Well said and yes, I do agree. Know this, racism still and always will exist in this country. Sad but true. Turn to God people!

  • Howard Roberts

    My brother …

    Well said … well done … continue to share, teach, even preach until the dry bones rise up and walk, work … minister among us!

    H

  • Tipph

    The T R U T H and F A C T of the matter is that…racism does exist in our society and church and there are victims because of this societal cancer. A life of a child was lost. If our church and society is truly PRO -LIFE…_____________fill in the blanks!

  • Christian

    You work with a group called “Black Youth & Young Adult Ministry” and then procede to lecturing about racism? Try substituting white in that titile and see how it works out?

  • J. Martinez

    Stereotypes afflict all races. But if young black males is the subject of the topic, how do stereotypes figure into the fact that statistically young black male victims of violent crimes were because of other young black males. Seems to me that the outrage is selective, especially in the Trayvon/Zimmerman case where the framing of the story as one of racism was built on faulty analysis and manipulated audio recordings.
    To keep perpetuating this story as the premise for a discussion for race relations is misleading.
    I think the premise for the discussion should be about the rush to stereotyping Zimmerman and the selective outrage produced by the race gaiters while ignoring real problem of just who is perpetrating violent crimes on the young black male.

  • Jon Herbert

    “I am George Zimmerman. And so are you,” said diversity specialist Lee Mun Wah. “We have–all of us–grown up conditioned to believe that black males are a threat to be feared.”

  • Donna

    I think racism will stop when we stop having organizations called “Black Students”. Any campus organization, scholarship fund, church group labeled “White Students.” would draw criticism. I think if it looks like a duck and quacks like a duck, i’m going to assume its a duck. If you want to walk around after dark in a bad neighborhood, looking sneaky, with your hands in your pockets, staring at houses, ducking from neighborhood volunteers, sorry brother, you’re a duck.

  • Christy

    David,

    I too did not make the claim that guns are the root of all evil either. I totally agree with the credo, “guns don’t kill people, people kill people.”

    Guns can only kill someone if a person fires them. I know there are plenty of responsible firearms owners out there. They have a legitimate use for hunting, and skeet-shooting, and I suppose collectors. However, you are correct in stating that we should do something about neighborhood watch people possessing firearms when on duty. You know who needs to carry a gun on duty? A police officer who is trained on when, where and how to shoot. (not that the police are always entirely innocent with their firearms use either. But I have a lot more faith in someone who is thoroughly trained to use them in situations such as these.) I think (like David said) that the US very much needs to re-think their legislation regarding firearms.

    As for your culture of fear that you speak about Scott: I am not going to mock your fear of a government that has instilled this culture of fear within its citizenship. I am sure if I had been raised in your culture, I might be afraid as well. But I believe that at the heart of America is a bunch of loving, caring, peace-loving people who understand that this fear is probably very unnecessary.

    Like Scott said, until the facts of this case come out, I think it’s best not to declare this a hate crime. Innocent until proven guilty?

    Unfortunately we may never know the entire truth of this tragic situation because there were only 2 people actually present at the incident. And very tragically, one of them is dead.

    My thoughts and prayers truly go out to Trayvon’s gf and family. They also go out to Zimmerman and his family. What a world of hurt over some kid walking late at night back to his father’s place. Just breaks my heart to think of it.

  • Thomas

    Adam,

    I suspect those scattered examples don’t see their survival as anecdotal. Changing, or rethinking, our laws won’t protect anyone. Criminals don’t buy their guns from the gun store after patiently waiting for a background check. Criminals don’t take gun safety classes. Criminals will commit crimes regardless of what constitutional God given right you try to take away. Even if you magically remove the guns from their hands, then what? Perhaps we can begin rethinking the lack of knife laws.

    Ansel,

    I visit 20 to 25 Catholic churches each year and often get the same treatment, but I am white. People are naturally suspicious of strangers/visitors. In my diocese, the problem stems from the fact that new faces in our churches are rare. I was once questioned in my home church during setup for an event because the individual had never seen me before. I had been a parishioner for four years by then. Turns out my questioner was a 5:30 Saturday Catholic, but I was a 8:30 Sunday Catholic. As Catholics we can all work on our hospitality skills, but certainly some parishes need a little more work than others.

  • Beverl Dow

    Bearing arms is a right given to us by the Constitution. I cherish the right to protect myself if I need to. This article is well meaning, but nobody but Mr. Zimmerman knows the truth. Unfortunately, Trayvon is not here to tell his side of the story. People who want to fuel the fires of racism need to chill out. Let due process happen. Why is it okay for a group to set a bounty on the head of Zimmerman? I believe if a bounty were set on a person of color, there would be unending outrage. Where is Atty General Holder?

  • Adam

    David, I made no such hyperbolic claim such as “proclaiming fire arms to be the root of all evil”. In fact I grew up in a family of hunters and firearm enthusiasts. While I choose not to own guns myself I am familiar with their operation.

    You are correct in stating that guns are not the cause of the problem, it is the people who use them. However, guns are still deadly instruments which are easy to acquire. Whether the guns themselves are the cause of the problem or not is irrelevant; it is too easy for unstable individuals in this country to possess them.

    Furthermore the University of Texas sniper example is a logical fallacy. If you compare the number of times lawful citizens have used firearms to prevent crimes against the number of times criminals have used firearms to commit crimes the data shows beyond any doubt that a well armed populace does NOT deter violent crime. You are free to corroborate that statement with any legitimate law enforcement data collecting agency.

    True, there may be scattered examples of people defending themselves with the use of firearms, but these examples are anecdotal and not indicative of how those scenarios usually play out.

    Really though my initial post was just suggesting that as a country we may need to rethink the way that we view guns and allow people access to them. That doesn’t mean no guns for anyone, it means that we need a better relationship with guns than we have now.

  • Cathy Luttrell

    Thank you Ansel Augustine for a very insightful and heartfelt article. I especially loved what you said about only when we truly challenge the norms that may lead to divisions will we be able to come together as a loving church that we were created to be. I’m grateful to who I belong to and appreciate the reminder from one who “gets it”.

  • David

    To Adam and Christy, I think you’re missing the point of the entire article. I’m guessing you have never fired a gun before either but I could be wrong in assuming that. Guns are not the source of the problem anymore than religion is the source of natural human tendencies towards hatred. Though I do not own a gun, nor do I wish to, I think the right to defend yourself from your government. Yes, that statement comes from a place of fear, but I’d appreciate you be more sensitive to that, that a happy go-lucky society where nothing bad can ever happen, where you don’t have to wait for your government to take control over you, is a delicate reality. If you’d like to assuage the fears of people like me, I’d rather you did so rather than righteously proclaiming fire arms to be the root of all evil. There was a sniper incident at the University of Texas many years ago, and the only reason he wasn’t able to kill more people was because people in the streets began firing back. It sounds crazy and sounds paranoid, but taking away peoples rights instead of advocating responsibility and stricter laws for those who do bear the responsibility of carrying instruments that have the potential to destroy, seems like you’re avoiding the source of the problem. I’d be more in favor of preventing neighborhood “watchmen” from carrying weapons as a neighborhood association, simply because when you carry a weapon and are put in a position of power like that and are not trained properly, you should not be carrying a weapon.

  • AnitaH

    Regardless of race, those wearing hoodies have been stereotyped the world over. Teens wearing hoodies have been discussed in the British Houses and were an issue in last summer’s London riots. Check out this story in The Guardian: http://www.guardian.co.uk/uk/2011/aug/09/power-of-the-hoodie

  • Scott

    Until the facts of this case fully come out, I would urge caution to all those who seek to vocally “support” one side or the other. I think that the President’s decision to inject himself into this situation and the words that he chose to do that are particularly problematic in that he apprared to take a side in this matter before all of the facts have come out. The great tragedy is that a human life was lost at the hands of another, regardless of whether it was in self-defense or not, and that certain evil elements of our society set the stage for it to happen. We should pray for the souls of both men who were caught up by these evil elements and who collided with each other as a tragic result.

  • Adam

    Christy I agree completely. Whatever other facts emerge, the bottom line is that the whole scenario would have been avoided if Zimmerman had not possessed a gun.

    Constitutionally people have a right to own a firearm, but we really need to rethink the extent and purpose of that law. The best thing about our Constitution is that it can be changed.

  • Christy

    I guess my issue with this situation is that whether the Trayvon Martin case is proven to be a hate crime or not, why did George Zimmerman carry a gun anyway.

    A civilized society doesn’t allow people to carry deadly weapons around like it’s a right.

    I just don’t understand US gun laws. Why on earth would people expect to have the RIGHT to bear arms????

  • Christy

    well said!

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