President Obama’s recent unexpected comments about the Trayvon Martin tragedy were quite revealing in the personal manner in which he described his own experiences with being profiled as an African American man. Obama talked about being followed while shopping in a department store, noticing people lock their doors as he walked across the street and also seeing white women who clutched their purses and held their breath while they were in a confined elevator with him.
These are all very familiar themes for African Americans because we continue to be subjected to these overt acts of profiling in our daily lives. I recall shopping at an upscale mall where I had purchased a back massager from Brookstone which came in a very large box. I decided to peruse the mall before I took the box to my car. As I was walking through the Nordstrom’s men’s section on my way to the exit, I suddenly saw a mall security officer leap from behind a rack of clothes as if he wanted to startle me.
He was talking on his walkie- talkie and never introduced himself or said anything to me. I thought the whole incident was strange but as I was walking to my car, I realized that he was trying to get a reaction from me because he thought that I was a thief.
The following day I called the mall security and asked them if they had a policy of following African Americans around the mall as they shopped. I explained to them what happened to me the previous day and that I felt slighted by this officer’s conduct; of course they denied that this was their policy, but it was obvious that this was probably standard procedure for them.
My primary reason for calling was because I was upset that I was profiled and I wanted to make sure that someone responsible heard my voice and my complaint. One of things that really resonated with me about Obama’s statements was that he indicated that black people felt put off by the failure of society to acknowledge that this type of profiling was prevalent.
This failure to acknowledge our pain and our frustrations is the very root of many of the maladies that exist within the black community. Without a means or an outlet to vent our frustrations about profiling and discrimination on a daily basis, many times that anger is directed towards our own community. Escalating black on black crime in many large cities is rooted in disappointment, lack of opportunities and decades of discrimination.
In 1995 after the overthrow of the white majority rule in South Africa, President Mandela helped to establish the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) where witnesses who were identified as victims of gross human rights violations were invited to give statements about their experiences, and some were selected for public hearings. Perpetrators of violence could also give testimony and request amnesty from both civil and criminal prosecution (Source: Wikipedia). The result of this initiative was profound because it helped to heal some of the pain associated with decades of apartheid on the majority of black South Africans.
America has never apologized for two decades of brutal enslavement that our ancestors had to endure, nor has there ever been an attempt to reconcile the pain and the injustice of slavery. Since we’ve elected our first African American President, I think some people assumed that we were living in a post racial society. But the Trayvon Martin tragedy was a reminder that race is still prevalent and we still have a long way to go to achieve MLK Jr.’s dream of a non-racial society.
I often feel as though we’re becoming two different races composed of educated and affluent African Americans and a distant race of disaffected black youth who don’t feel as though they’re a part of our society. There are many reasons why these youth feel so disenfranchised but I believe that the primary reason is the absence of strong black male role models in their life and the decline of two parent families in America.
Young black men are more likely to join a gang because the gang lifestyle represents an extended family of male role models who serve as surrogate father figures in their life. The result is typically an early death or extended incarceration, which has not declined over the past 20 years.
I believe that we have reached a point in the black community whereby we can help those who want to help themselves and we simply have to pray for those who are lost.