Trayvon, Rue, and Tebow: Missed Connections

Turn on the news in the past few weeks and chances are the discussion has focused on the Trayvon Martin shooting (if a news channel), the success of the Hunger Games movie (if a entertainment segment), or the Tim Tebow to the Jets controversy (if Sports Talk).

The death of the young black man in a hoodie armed and dangerous with a can of sweet tea and a bag of skittles (obesity police alert) continues to slam the web with commentary (good and bad).[1] I cannot help but wonder how the situation would have played out if the situation had been reversed. Say Trayvon grabbed the gun and shot Zimmerman. Perhaps a mirror world would have many whites screaming for justice, and many blacks bemoaning the misunderstanding of the shooter. It seems that where you stand is strongly determined by your skin color. On facebook I had the temerity to post a hooded shot of myself and had a good friend treat me like an idiot who had not read any of the coverage. Meanwhile many friends whom I love and respect have given Zimmerman the benefit of the doubt (that unfortunately they never seem to give African-American men in similar situations). I have remarked that in reactions you see that many whites have a graduated view on race. Many of these same defenders of Zimmerman have spent much of the past year arguing to me that Hispanics (particularly those 1st or 2nd generation immigrants) represent a clear and present danger have dropped their suspicions of this immigrant’s son.[2] Yet when the Hispanic shoots a black kid in a hoodie, black trumps Hispanic, I guess.

For those of you who think my use of the race card is antiquated and proof of my liberal slide into victimized nonsense, I offer the Hunger Games Twitter fiasco. Here is a sample tweet from one excited fan as he viewed the movie (warning bad language: ahead are words I do not use but simply quote here in the context of explaining this person’s worldview fully):


Another hyperventiling twit, had this wise counsel on the use of a black actress to play Rue:

“Kk call me racist but when I found out rue was black her death wasn’t as sad” [3]

Since the previous twit did my work for me, let me move on with name-calling. In this incident (occurring in real time right next to the Trayvon madness) I was dismayed. First in the book itself, Rue was explicitly described as black. This is important because both the previous twits show familiarity and love for the book. It seems that as they read they had envisioned Rue as a white character, and been as moved as any of us by the sacrifice of Rue (saving the main White character), and said character’s emotional guesture of respect for her friend’s loss of life. Sadly for some that loss only had meaning if the character was white, and when their eyes could not betray them as their imaginations had, that loss lost its significance. Here again the loss of a black life was considered meaningless and excused as just them liberals trying to mess withAmerica.

Both of these accounts intertwined for me as I read accounts of both (back-to-back) while in the waiting room of my eye doctor. I was struck by the similarities in outrage and the lack of that outrage and what they meant for our supposed “post-racial” culture.[4] As I tried to makes sense of these strange people (some of whom I have long thought well-adjusted to life), I remembered a conversation I had the day before. In the breakroom at work I had discussed the movement of my man, Peyton Manning[5], to the Denver Broncos. I remarked to one friend that I had been deemed bad by many friends who were upset that my boy had supplanted their good friend Tim Tebow. I was arguing forcefully (and cogently I might add) that the signing of Peyton was a good business move for the Broncos as they had added the last piece to a Super Bowl contender. “Peyton is a sure-fireHOF quarterback who has already been there and done that,” I ranted, “Tebow won a playoff game, a game.” I ended with my concern for the football savvy of anyone who would argue for Tebow’s greatness over against one of the best to play the game. My friend calmly took in my rant, and replied, “the problem is that Tebow is a great person, and many of our Christian friends have long confused being a good person with being good at their position.” I was thunderstruck remembering all the times I had asked other Christians for advice on a plumber, a dentist, or so forth. Time after time they gave me the name of some person with only the proviso that “this one was a Christian.” I always thought I don’t care about the orthodoxy of their religious beliefs, just tell me if they can fix my sink, cap my tooth, and not overcharge me in the process.

Yet the mistake made was one of false equivalency. The sad fact is that for some of my otherwise “good” friends being Christian means being good at their job; being white means being a valued citizen whose death is important; and unfortunately being black means being a potential threat to the community at large. Yet in all of these cases the one does not necessarily equate to the other. Yes there are some Christians who are good quarterbacks (see Warner, Kurt). Yes there are many white men and women who lead amazing lives and whose death is a cause for concern (see Tillman, Pat). And yes, unfortunately, there are some African-American men and women who represent a clear and present danger to others. But none of these should be granted the status of an always true statement; in fact, many times these are not the cases. Tebow’s throwing motion is a disaster, and his ability to read a defense is questionable.[6] Rue stands as a great black character whose death mattered regardless of her color. And Trayvon was not the thief who had been plagued that gated community. He was most likely a cold kid lost in the rain as he attempted to bring food and drink back to the kid he was watching while their parents were on a date. Maybe he should not have reacted with frustration and anger when Zimmerman followed him down the street and challenged his right to be there; but seriously can you blame him. If you were walking down the street noticed someone paying too close attention to you, had that same person jump out of his car and chase after you when you freaked and ran. If that person had a gun on their waist while they demanded you prove your right to be there. How would you have handled yourself? If that person was your son how would you feel about his death?

Think about it this: if Tebow was an arrogant jerk with the last name Vick, and a different complexion would you still argue he should be a starter? Or play this out: what fictional characters mean the most to you. In the realm of movies which character deaths have most affected you, and whose deaths have you brushed off as unimportant? When you pick up a book and imagine the characters in your brain, what color are they? If you have to, perhaps, you might imagine Trayvon was white, had a Hilfiger jacket on, and was named Bubba. Playing these games, and mentally visiting these alternate earths where Tebow is a punk, and both Rue and Trayvon are white might just clue you into some important truth about yourself. Maybe it’s time to take stock of the mental framework that undergirds your perspective on the world. Maybe it’s time to carefully consider the social construction of your world view. Maybe its time to admit that Christians can suck at their jobs and African-Americans can be role models. And maybe, just maybe the next time a black youth is gunned down in his prime for the crime of getting lost and wandering too close to your home, you, too, will feel some outrage. Because until we all get in on the outrage and demand better from ourselves and our communities, black boys are going to continue bleeding to death on our manicured lawns.

[1] For a good round-up of cover, see here.

[2] I would be interested to visit a multi-verse earth in which Martin was white and had been shot by the Hispanic Zimmerman. I can hear alternate Rush and Beck screaming that we need to be saved from the brown scourge of Hispanic immigration (much as our R&B do everytime some white Arizonan is killed within a 100 miles of the border).

[3] You can see reporting on these tweets here, and an excellent commentary on their meaning here.

[4] I mean we have a black president who got into office without any racial problems popping up- wait, you have a viral picture for me to see waiting in my reader, OK, I multi-task. OMG, is this real. Wait she did say this was a racist statement, maybe we should…

[5] I was at UT for all of Peyton’s college career, and will continue to root for him until he retires, at which point I may drive to his house and root for his choices in beverages.

[6] QB rating is the best predictor of long-term success from your QB. Peyton has a career mark of 94.8. His brother, Eli, who has been oft criticized as a QB, has a lifetime 82.1. Rex Grossman, a QB that long frustrated my Chicago Bears with his schizophrenic play winning big against cream-puffs then exploding into futility once you believed that this was the year he would lead the team to glory, has a mark of 71.4. Tebow’s mark stands around 72. That record says to me that over time Tebow is more likely to resemble Grossman, than either Manning. For clarity that is not good. True, Grossman’s team did make a Super Bowl in 2007 when he posted a scorching 66.4; but the reason for that run was more found in the Bears D.



Add yours →

  1. It’s not a bad article, and the most complete layout of what is currently known, but the style is story rather than factual reporting and much of the language used is “code” language that leaves it far from actually neutral in delivery. I’ve said since the beginning that we simply don’t know enough, either way, to make any sort of decision which is a big part of my problem with the race-baiters like Jackson and Sharpton. I’m open to interpreting this situation any number of ways, but I would REALLY appreciate it if folks would draw their conclusions from FACTS and not opinion or stereotype or their own sense of entitlement or grievance.

    For some details missed by folks who are NOT actually knowledgeable about self-defense, here is a great article by someone who knows that aspect of this exceptionally well:

    The truth is, after we scratch way down into this, I think both sides will find it all goes back to the original truth, we live in a fallen world and sometimes shit happens, there is very little we can do to keep it from happening again and the LEAST effective course of action will be through the government.

  2. Unsanitary Jesus 04/04/2012 — 4:30 pm

    I agree I think this is a crappy situation that Trayvon added to by the way he handled himself. Perhaps he should not have doubled back and shouted at Zimmerman. However what frustrates me about it is this: if we want to push the situation, who was acting in self-defense. Zimmerman (wrongly) had the gun while “on patrol.” Zimmerman made the assumption (wrongly) that Martin was up to no good. Zimmerman chased Martin down a darkened back alley. Zimmerman forced the confrontation. Then he gets to be shocked when someone reacted angrily. Yet as I mentioned to another friend if I was walking down the sidewalk had someone start glaring at me, jump out of their truck, chase me down a dark alley, and confront me, I would not be all ask questions first, I would defend myself any way I could. And I cannot blame
    At least there is a charge of manslaughter available in that he did not plan the attack; nor did he mean to kill. Had Zimmerman not been “on patrol,” had he not had a gun, had he not left his truck (against the explicit order of both the police and 911 operator, had he not forced a confrontation, Martin would be alive today. His actions led to the death of another and for that he ought to share some blame in that consequence.
    To the issue of “coded” speech, I am not sure what that might have been. This issue, however, is a dicey one that I struggle with as both conservatives and liberals tend to blame the other for using it. In this way the other side seems to be able to blame inoculate statements by the other for being more inflammatory than they really are. I wish both sides would stop believing the worst about it each other and considering the other at some shadow game meant to destroy the other. Perhaps the Left has simply something to be justifiably mad about here (granted over-reactions to lesser offenses often hamper their ability to honestly protest a real offense).
    Last I think that my suggestion to learn to view situations from others standpoints would help and not hinder the situation. If people would think through a situation from the standpoint of another before speaking, then perhaps a lot of the false and inflammatory comments would go by the wayside. Allowing time to cool off and get the “facts” allows cooler heads to make calmer statements (and will justify any outrage as it is at least somewhat considered). But this of course points to one last problem, what are facts? Facts are often notoriously vague, and not as easy to distinguish as one might want them to be. Meanwhile emotions while often closer to the surface, stronger, and often clearer are not always wrong (many times our gut reactions are purer and more truthful than what happens upon reflection). Sometimes the man sitting in the truck pretending not to watch you is really watching you, and sometimes his motives are not as pure as he would believe them to be.

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