Casual Bigotry and the Great Project of Healing into Something Better

I join those who were appalled at the not guilty verdict at George Zimmerman’s trial for shooting seventeen year old Trayvon Martin. And, I have to admit, for several reasons, I wasn’t completely surprised.

Despite a very bad beginning the defense mounted a relentless attack, I believe throwing enough dust in the air for the jurors to feel unable to convict beyond that necessary reasonable doubt.

But, the part that most bothered and bothers me and which also led to my feelings that there may not be a conviction was the worm at the heart of our American culture.

I’ve just returned from ten days in Southern California, spending a lot of time with in-laws. Several of whom I adore. Most of whom, I have to characterize as generally goodhearted folk, but also folk with little education beyond High School and whose work lives are precarious and at best at the bottom of what we euphemistically call the “middle class.” (In any other country it would be called working class, but that’s probably for another reflection…) As I said, largely goodhearted folk, hard working, barely getting by. They’re very much aware of competition in life from others, they’re mostly aware of others with different accents and others with different skin colors. And while they’re aware of social taboos (call it p.c.) against openly racist comments, they exude a casual bigotry.

And it is that casual bigotry which I see the worm at the heart of our culture.

Coming to understand this as both a communal stance and as a personal issue is critical.

Critical if we wish to break cycles of hurt and be part of a project of healing.

I am not commenting on the jurors who delivered their verdict. I’m sure whatever else, they tried to do justice. And I’m moderately sure their decision turned, as I’ve already said, on “reasonable doubt.” A decision probably also contaminated by the wrongheaded “stand your ground” law on the books in Florida, and elsewhere.

I’m glad the justice department is considering civil rights charges, and I would support the family pursuing the matter civilly, if they felt they could handle the continuing pain.


It is that worm at the heart I find myself most thinking about. And how important it is for us as individuals within our culture and for us as citizen within our republic to see deeply into the matter and the damage it does to us all.

These things appear to be pretty natural. We’re herd animals and from the beginning we are aware of us and them. When we move beyond family groupings things get complicated.

Natural, but not healthful.

In our country people of European descent are in the majority. But, just barely. And, with demographic trends, not going to be so for much longer. So, if for no better reason, those in the current majority would be wise to show a little compassion and self-awareness before slipping into the minority. People remember how they’ve been treated…

But, there are more important reasons, I believe, for looking into our hearts, and changing our direction.

In this world torn by the consequences of self and other, the ideal, and the grand experiment of our republic is that we are all in it together and all have an equal shot at success.

What we see here is example ten million of how we fall short of that ideal.

People are disadvantaged for any number of reasons. (That class thing is really worth revisiting…)

Among the most galling to those who dream that dream of our being in it all together and that all should have a fair shot, is the animus that poisons our relationships outside of our most narrowly defined senses of self.

In this case the assumption a young black man in what seems to be the wrong neighborhood. A kid really…

Showing attitude.

And dying for it.

I think a lot about Theodore Parker’s famous line about the arc of history bending toward justice, repeated with great passion and put into practice by Martin Luther King, and commented on so pointedly by Barack Obama when he saw King and Parker and noticed for that to happen it requires our putting our hands on that arc and bending it.

Otherwise. Well, otherwise, eye for an eye and blindness all around.

There’s the real deal.

We have two paths we can walk. One toward continuing divisions and tit for tat, a world where everyone needs to watch out whether her neighbor is going to hurt them. The other the path of reconciliation, where we look out for our neighbors, knowing our connections are deeper than our distinctions.

I hope we will continue to examine our hearts, both our hearts as individuals, and our communal heart, really examine it.

If we can admit to animus when its there, even if it is hard to admit. At the very least to ourselves.

If we can see the casual bigotry.

Well, then, maybe, just maybe, we an do something about it.

And, start out on that other road, the one less traveled, the one toward genuine healing in this world of hurt.

What might that look like?

Perhaps it might look like the hand of God,

Perhaps like grace, amazing grace…

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