Thursday, July 18, 2013

Eulogy for Hope From Zimmerman Verdict

Zimmerman Verdict Series
1. Sourcing Zimmerman Verdict Angst
2. Profiling the Content of One's Character
Today's essay is #3.


May I ask you something?

Why are you reading this?

Why are you reading my blog?  Why do you read anybody's blog?  Why do you consume any opinion articles?

Do you hope to find affirmation for your own opinions?  Do you want to consider viewpoints other than the one you've already developed for yourself?  Are you confident enough in your own opinions that you're not easily swayed by somebody else's, or easily offended?

I think it's good to be confident in one's opinions, as long as they've been based on good authority.  And some opinions are more important that others, of course.  Adherence to the tenets of one's faith, for example, should be less open for re-interpretation or outright revision than, say, whether or not your salary is fair, or if the Texas Rangers really are the best team in baseball, or if North Carolina is a more business-friendly state than Tennessee, or if abortion should be an available option in the case of rape.  Even if somebody else's viewpoint doesn't change your own, you might at least understand how that person thinks (or doesn't!), and you can interact with them more productively.

But if there's one thing I've learned this week while writing, discussing, thinking, and praying about the Zimmerman verdict, it's that many Americans are content to live with their own preconceived notions of reality regardless of how erroneous those notions may be.  People dislike being confronted with facts that challenge what they've already decided.  Emotions can play far greater a role than logic in determining the legitimacy of something.

I wasn't going to write this essay.  I was simply going to move on to another topic.  Something light and breezy, perhaps, or even more heady and serious.  And maybe tomorrow, I will.

But today, as I look around me at what both the mainstream and non-mainstream media continue to regurgitate regarding the Zimmerman verdict, and the discussions taking place in social media and even face-to-face conversations, I'm realizing that nothing is likely to improve regarding race relations in the United States because of this case.

And it's because the minds of a lot of people on both sides of the debate seem a lot more closed than open. 

Hope and Change Elusive In Verdict

Maybe it's just me, but have you noticed that fewer of us Americans demonstrate either the ability or desire to process information?  Stereotypes, laziness, indifference, fear, anger, and pride rule the day.  Even some Christian leaders, to whom we evangelicals have traditionally turned for helpful guidance, seem content to take things at face value.  Perhaps they've filled their schedules with all sorts of worthwhile ministry activities to the point where they only have time to skim the surface of the news happening all around them.  They've managed to learn some facts in the Zimmerman case, except those facts are suspiciously similar to the misguided notions that have been peddled for months by a woefully biased mainstream media.

Or maybe that's just me being hyper-cynical.  But even if this lackluster exegesis of the Zimmerman trial wasn't a figment of my critical imagination, that probably wouldn't be so bad if this was a less volatile issue.  But hardened bigots on both sides of the racial divide see what they want to see in this case, regardless of whether or not it's accurate.  Some of the stuff being written across the vast evangelical industrial complex this past week has either been sloppily nuanced or outright polarizing amongst a religious cohort that has pursued the shallowest of assimilations with different cultures.

Not something we should be perpetuating, by either commission or omission.

Meanwhile, well-intentioned ranks of functionally-racist blacks and whites go about their days in amicable tolerance, trying to get along with one another and hoping some good can come out of it, but not holding their collective breath.  We shake our heads at the tragedy of a dead teenager, but we degenerate into confusion over who - and what - is to blame.  We let our emotions ride on a verdict we didn't swear an oath to make after parsing all of the facts made available to us in a court of law.  We allow televised court coverage, the media, and even opinionators like me to convince ourselves we have the right to extrapolate lessons from this case.  We're loathe to admit that this might be one of those times when it really was simply a misguided confrontation between the victim and the accused - who's presumed innocent until proven guilty, which he wasn't.

Frankly, I thought we were farther along this road towards racial equanimity than apparently we are.

Regular readers of this blog know that I'm not the most socially-adjusted person on this planet.  I ask dumb questions, poke around under too many rocks, and say things out loud that others are thinking but are too socially-adjusted to verbalize.  I probably also assume too much.

And you know what that makes me.

Maybe I am more of a bigot than I want to be.  Maybe I'm too transparent in my thoughts.  Maybe it makes a difference in this case that I'm not a parent, and can't imagine the anguish of losing a teenaged son.  I know I have a lot to learn about a lot of things.  That's one of the reasons I explore the variety of topics that I explore on this blog.  I preach to myself as much as I preach to anybody else.   Sometimes this blog is for my own benefit more than anybody else's.

So why do I let myself sink with disappointment when it seems so many people around me are embracing the same old patterns that seldom improve anything for anybody?  Is it because I'm more of an optimist than the cynic everybody else thinks I am?  Might I actually be hoping for too much here?

Race To the Bottom in Detroit

Speaking of cynicism and hope, the city of Detroit today petitioned for Chapter Nine bankruptcy protection, making it the largest municipality in American history ever to do so.  Nobody's quite sure how it will work, or what its financial ramifications might be to the state of Michigan, and the country as a whole.  Over the years, it may have lost over one million residents, but it's still a sizable city with 700,000 inhabitants, the overwhelming majority of whom are black.  City services have been cut to the bone, crime is rampant, and corruption - some call it incompetence - plagues practically every department.

I don't travel much, but from what little traveling I have done in my life, I believe the metro Detroit area to be the most racially segregated place I've ever been.  You can practically see the line between white suburbs and black inner city when you cross between the two.  It's not just about race; even longtime suburban blacks have been complaining recently about urban blacks fleeing Detroit for what affordable suburbs there are ringing the ghettos.  There is a definite cultural difference between blacks who've raised their families in some of the blue-collar suburbs and those who are recent arrivals from the tough streets of Detroit proper.

What will Detroit's bankruptcy do to this staunchly-segregated metropolitan area?  City services aren't supposed to suffer from the filing, but chances are, even if they did, things are already so bad, nobody would notice.  Suburban whites are already complaining that the city's atrocious finances are costing their own towns, counties, and Michigan itself, since everybody else has been having to help float the municipal boat of the state's largest city.  And it's never long, when the suburban whites start complaining, before race becomes a part of the dialog.  Just check out the reader feedback portions of any article on about events leading up to this bankruptcy petition.

So?  When banks, lenders, government agencies, courts, bondholders, and all of their lawyers start talking about bankruptcy, there's little room for altruism, emotion, intuition, nostalgia, or even magnanimity.  Bankruptcy is all about facts.  Court is not to determine guilt or innocence, but who gets what and how much.

People may want to hold their emotions close and gloss over the facts in the wake of the Zimmerman verdict, but that may be just as effective as citizen stakeholders walking into the Detroit bankruptcy courtroom and hoping Wall Street will give the city the benefit of the doubt.

Then again, it seems like a lot of people don't want to give Zimmerman's jury the benefit of the doubt, either.

They say the truth hurts.  Maybe that's why I feel the way I'm feeling.

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