Last Saturday, a verdict was reached in the George Zimmerman trial. It was concluded by a jury that Zimmerman, a white man, was not guilty of murdering Trayvon Martin, a young black man. This seemed like an occasion to call upon the many voices and perspectives we have in Unitarian Universalism to understand the meaning and impact of the verdict. First, I reached out to Nadine Godin-Nassaney, the chairperson of our Anti-Racism Anti-Oppression Multi-Culturalism Committee (ARAOMC), for her thoughts on the verdict.
“The not guilty verdict in the Trayvon Martin/George Zimmerman case is disheartening, but understandable when placed in historical context. We have all been socialized into a racist society that was built on slavery. Although slavery no longer exists, underlying systemic racism does. Why else would the dead body of Trayvon Martin be drug tested, but not the body of the live person who killed him? The inferiority of African Americans was how slavery was justified and maintained. The underlying systemic message is that white is normal/best and that people of color are lesser than and therefore don’t deserve the same rights and freedoms. Centuries of these beliefs have been passed down to us. As difficult as it might be to believe, we all have been socialized this way and it clouds our thinking, values and judgment. We need to work hard to create an antiracist world where all people, no matter their color or ethnicity, are treated equally.
People’s Church can work toward creating a world where all people are treated equally by looking at our past and present. We need to uncover the lies that have been taught to us through systemic racism and act in ways to be inclusive and welcoming to people of color in the Kalamazoo community, the state of Michigan and beyond. We need to support legislation that stops the targeting and criminalization of people of color especially young black males, and move our country toward becoming a more just society.
People’s people can read the UUA Common Read for the 2012-2013 church year, The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Color Blindness by Michelle Alexander to see how people of color are targeted in our judicial system. The ARAOMC Committee will be hosting a discussion of this book in the fall 2013. They can also attend an ARAOMC event at church or attend Crossroads introductory half-day or the 2 ½ Understanding and Analyzing Systemic Racism at ERAC/CE (Eliminating Racism and Claiming / Celebrating Equality) in Kalamazoo to begin to understand how we have all been socialized into a racist society. There are also books in the People’s Church library that can begin to shed light on white privilege and our racialized society.”
– Nadine Godin-Nassaney, People’s Church, ARAOMC Chairperson
Another way you can get involved is to become a part of the ARAOMC Committee. For more information, visit the ARAOMC page.
Michelle Alexander, author of the UUA Common Read also offered a workshop at General Assembly this year entitled Ending the New Jim Crow. You can watch that workshop here.
Below I’ve included resources offered by a number of different UU reactions to the verdict. I hope you find their words helpful. Please leave a comment if there is something you read here that strikes a chord and you feel so moved to discuss.
Rev. Naomi King, City of Refuge Ministries, Harrison, ME – Defeat & Carrying On
[Excerpt]”There are always setbacks, challenges, and defeats, failures, and yes, even mistakes, in all our lives. Answering fearful aggression with fearful aggression may feel better in the short term, but it creates more hate, more fear, more violence. When I’m furious with grief, I have to keep reminding myself: only love gets us past the hate and joining the haters means they’ve won some victory over my soul as well as in my community.”
Rev. Joshua Mason Pawelek, Minister of the Unitarian Universalist Society: East in Manchester, Conn. – I Tremble for My Country
[Excerpt]”Racism is bigger than George Zimmerman, the lawyers, the jury and the judge. It’s bigger than Florida. But it’s alive and well in this story which, at least for now, concludes with the message that it’s OK to kill young black men. Racism wrote that ending. And while racism is not the greatest writer, it is utterly prolific—so prolific that we who inhabit White America often fail to notice that the ending is a lie. The truth is that it’s not OK to kill young black men. There’s nothing OK about it.”
Rev. Peter Morales, President of the Unitarian Universalist Association – Press Release
[Excerpt]”A Florida jury has acquitted George Zimmerman in the killing of Trayvon Martin, an unarmed African American teenager. It is hard to imagine that if an unarmed white teenager had been shot and killed by an African American man that the verdict would have been the same. The legal system has had its say, but justice has not been served. As we search for meaning in the wake of these events, I remember the words of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.: “We must accept finite disappointment, but never lose infinite hope.”
Taquiena Boston, Director, Multicultural Growth & Witness, Unitarian Universalist Association – Grieving for Trayvon All Over Again
[Excerpt]”Trayvon Martin wasn’t just a victim of a trigger-happy George Zimmerman. Trayvon was a victim of Florida’s bad laws. He was a victim of a society that criminalizes dark skin, criminalizes poverty, and criminalizes youth.
This criminalization of youth and young adult males of color is a mindset that has been linked to institutional racism and white supremacy–a mindset that frames youth of color as criminal and dangerous. How do we transcend this negative frame and see the humanity of our young people?”
Rev. Meg Riley, Senior Minister, Church of the Larger Fellowship – A Prayer for Those Whose Hearts are on Fire
[Excerpt] “May my anger give me strength to take action,
To stand my own ground, the ground of compassion,
The ground of justice which dwells beyond courts of law and its technicalities,
The ground of worth and dignity of every human being.”
Rev. Dr. Lynn Ungar, Minister of Lifespan Learning, Church of the Larger Fellowship – Stand Your Ground
[Excerpt]”What I want to know now is what I’m supposed to tell my daughter, an African-American teenager. Maybe, since she’s a girl, she won’t be seen as quite so threatening by white strangers on the street. Maybe, when she starts driving, she won’t be pulled over by the cops for “driving while Black” – at least not as often as if she were a boy. (Lord, here I was just worried about when my teen starts driving because, you know, Teens. Driving.) Maybe she will just be followed in stores when she goes shopping. Maybe men will just make assumptions about the sexual availability of my beautiful girl.”