Every so often, there are events that force us to look at reality. One act of injustice is an attack on American society.
On Feb. 26, 17-year-old Trayvon Martin was shot and killed in Sanford, Fla., by a neighborhood crime-watch volunteer. The shooter, George Zimmerman, believed that Martin looked suspicious, so he shot him — Zimmerman is not currently facing charges for Martin’s death. Martin was unarmed at the time, but because of Florida’s “Stand Your Ground” law, it is legal in Florida to shoot first when a person believes that he or others are in great danger or when they suspect a violent felony is going to be committed.
Every news outlet across the country has broadcast the case. Families have talked about it over dinner, and parents are forced tell their children what it means to be black in America.
Many factors led to Martin’s death, but it has become a case of black vs. white — Martin was black, and Zimmerman was white Hispanic.
The code of being black and male is nothing new. I’m currently enrolled in CRIM 451 (Race, Crime and Justice) and we’ve learned that young black males typically have it the worst when it comes to arrest rates, death by firearm and being pulled over by the police. The suspicion that every black male in a hooded sweatshirt and baggie pants is “up to no good” permeates American stereotypes. Almost overnight, the hoodie, has become a symbol — one of status, injustice and stereotype.
According to CNN, many churchgoers across the country wore hoodies to services on Sunday and Million Hoodie Marches are taking place across the country, including a silent march at the University Park campus Friday.
While Americans can unite for a day or so, many other days Americans still continue to encourage the racial divide.
#whitegirlproblems, #firstworldproblems, advertisements and TV shows do not encourage diversity but cater to racial stereotypes. We can’t separate ourselves from our race.
We say that we are not as racist and prejudiced as those who came before us, that society shapes up, but making fun of ourselves hurts us. It’s inappropriate to make fun of race or gender when there are still so many obstacles to overcome. We can laugh at ourselves, but the joke’s on us. Enjoy a laugh at pop culture’s interpretations but realize there’s an underlying problem that won’t go away. We continue to emulate these stereotypes, not rage against them. Americans need to stop being ignorant.
Laws, communities and history can easily make someone feel like they don’t belong. Everyone knows what it feels like to be stereotyped, but it’s difficult to break free of these stereotypes. They can define our position in society and most likely, we are put in those positions by society’s generalizations.
Many have already discovered that there isn’t a clear solution to the problems associated with stereotypes. In a Minnesota high school, there was a homecoming event called “Wigger Day” in 2009 that caused a black student “severe emotional distress including depression, loss of sleep, stress, crying, humiliation, anxiety and shame,” according to Courthouse News Service.
To encourage the stereotype, students dressed in oversized sports jerseys, low-slung pants and ‘doo rags.
In Norcross, Ga., a Beaver Ridge Elementary School teacher resigned after public outcry over a third grade math assignment that used slavery examples in word problems, according to a Huffington Post article in January. One question asked, “If Frederic got two beatings per day, how many beatings did he get in one week?”
It would be ignorant not to acknowledge past injustices, but acknowledging them should mean learning from them — not to continue their legacies.
Sam Richards, co-director of the World in Conversation Project, wrote in an email, “Regardless of the unknown facts of this killing, and there are not many facts left unknown, anyone who disregards the criminalization of black males in the United States is not paying attention. We should not rest until being a black male and being a threat are no longer synonymous.”
There are cultural differences between races and ethnic groups, but they divide us as a nation. It’s not bad to hang on to cultural practices and beliefs, but we let them define us. Americans fear what is different. Tolerance is not enough, there needs to be acceptance and possibly incorporation of race and ethnic specific activities into common American culture.
We are all human beings, and science has yet to find a link that preference for a certain race is genetic. Race is a social construct. Notions that one race is more intelligent, more beautiful or worthier shouldn’t exist. But when it is shaped into fear, it’s deadly in more ways than one.
We’re so committed to stereotypes that we don’t take the time to open our eyes. It’s true that it’s not guns that kill people — there’s a person pulling the trigger. There needs to be a meeting point for different cultures, a level or acceptance and a lack of suspicion. We can’t have justice until there is no clear line between races.
Jourdan Cole is a senior majoring in international politics, sociology and crime, law and justice. She is The Daily Collegian’s Monday columnist. Email her at email@example.com.