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home : opinion : opinion/editorial August 21, 2017

7/31/2013 1:36:00 PM
Room for a View: In American Skin
By Peggy Tarr

On Sunday July 14, Working circulated an email that said: “Yesterday was a disgraceful day in American history. George Zimmerman’s acquittal in the murder of Trayvon Martin makes it devastatingly clear that racism is alive and well in our country, and that too much of one’s life chances are determined by the color of your skin.”

The world is watching, America.

At a concert in Ireland on the Tuesday after the verdict, Bruce Springsteen (“The Boss”) sang and dedicated to Trayvon Martin a song he had written in 1999 called “American Skin (41 Shots).” 

One of the lines is:  “You can get killed just for living in your American skin.” The song was originally written in response to the New York City police killing of Amadou Diallo, an unarmed black immigrant from Guinea. (Patrick Ryan, USA TODAY, July 17, 2013)

On July 19, President Barack Obama spoke in the White House briefing room. Included in his talk – which appeared to be spontaneous – was a statement about Americans respecting the jury’s acquittal of George Zimmerman. 

I (and others) cannot respect the jury’s acquittal, but I can understand the President’s efforts to mitigate violent reactions to the verdict. Juries make mistakes.  In the Chicago area and beyond, inmates have been released from prison after years of incarceration for crimes they did not commit but for which juries mistakenly found them guilty. 

The President also said that white Americans should understand that African Americans are pained by Trayvon’s death; African Americans continue to face racial discrimination; he has experienced prejudice – being followed in stores, having car doors locked when he approached, etc. Trayvon Martin could have been him 35 years ago. 

The President’s words were focused on Trayvon, an African American male, but black females experience the same prejudiced behaviors the President mentioned.

When President Obama made the statements that African Americans need to address violence in their neighborhoods; African-American males are likely to be both “victims and perpetrators of violence”; and “somebody like Trayvon was statistically more likely to be shot by a peer than he was by somebody else,” the statements did not “set well” on many African American (and other ethnic) stomachs. 

Many black, law-abiding citizens have a history of their concerns, complaints and recommendations being ignored by the police, city, state and federal governments.  They are consequently frustrated and afraid as any other group of people would be.  President Obama spoke to the continued racial divides in America as well as the “stand your ground” laws and voiced his concerns about both. 

Shortsighted and narrow-minded bigots persist in seeing black people as monolithic in criminality, stupidity and laziness. 

Having an intelligent, very educated black man as President of the United States (as well as the existence of black judges, lawyers, doctors and teachers) doesn’t seem to do much to diminish the stereotypes that bigots hold about black people.

“There are none so blind as those who will not see,” as the saying goes. 

Lady Justice is portrayed in various ways, but she is frequently portrayed as blindfolded and holding up a scale of justice in her right hand and a double-edged sword in her left. 

The blindfold is to depict objectivity and the sword reason and justice. Since Trayvon was not committing a crime when he was followed and subsequently killed by Mr. Zimmerman, one has to assume that this tragedy (including the “not guilty” verdict) occurred because Trayvon was a black male in America.

Where was Lady Justice in this case?   Sadly, Springsteen’s lyrics are a painful reminder: “You can get killed just for living in your American skin.” 

The world is watching.

 “My humanity is bound up in yours, for we can only be human together.” -- Desmond Tutu (born Oct. 7, 1931, a South African activist and retired Anglican bishop) 


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