Racism flourishes in darkness

By SHAY STEWART-BOULEY  |  March 28, 2012

There is a reason that evil is associated with darkness. It's not that the night is inherently bad; in fact, it can be beautiful and wondrous things can take place in it.

We need to shine the light at times, however, to root out what is in the darkness, and the story of Trayvon Martin is a good example of that. In late February, this black youth carrying nothing more threatening than a pack of Skittles and wearing a hooded sweatshirt was shot and killed in Florida by a white Latino neighborhood-watch captain named George Zimmerman. Several weeks later, he remains free and uncharged, despite evidence he disregarded police instructions not to engage the teen, among other misconduct.

This case seemed destined for the "bad shit that happens when you are a Black teenager" file until determined parents and dedicated souls in the social-media world made sure the story got attention.

Race and racism are back in the limelight. In these supposedly post-racial times, few like to talk about racism. But electing our first black president in 2008 did not make racism go away. In fact, our unwillingness to talk about racism and how it festers beneath the surface threatens us all.

In the days since Trayvon's death, many well-meaning white folks have expressed sympathy for the plight of Trayvon and similar youth who are targets just because of the color of their skin.

On the other hand, I've also seen many who say we shouldn't focus on race because the shooter was technically a minority — disregarding the systemic racism that caused Martin to be deemed suspicious at all — and some have suggested that bringing race up in this case is inflammatory and divisive.

I say we need to fan some flames for more illumination, though.

Talking about racism's persistence is divisive?

Can you imagine saying that victims of sexual abuse and those who love them should remain silent, because otherwise you might divide families, schools, and communities? Should discussion of wage disparities between genders be taboo lest it divide workplaces?

When we don't talk about racism and problems of "difference" we open the door for white youth to become victims of racism as well. Hate is a learned behavior; if we don't plant seeds early to ensure kids don't learn to hate, we are opening the door to the outside world to plant those seeds instead.

Some have said all we have to do is strive to be good people and good things will happen. But evil thrives when good people do nothing to directly combat it, allowing racism and every other ism — sexism, classism, and more — to take root and grow.

Honest talk, naming these injustices, and actively taking a stand against them is what will stop them.

Often in predominantly white and homogenous settings, like Maine, people feel they don't have to think or talk about race. Yet media representations of people of color, especially black males, is often unflattering. Left alone it would be easy for the seeds to be planted that blossom into the assumption that black males are to be avoided or feared.

Those who have the privilege of not having to think about their race and how it will be perceived by others are the ones who most need to confront racism in themselves or around them.

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