Millions have responded to the call to speak out, march, protest and demand justice for Trayvon Martin. A lesser-publicized case, but certainly not less brutal, is the murder of Shaima Alawadi, a 32-year-old Iraqi American mother of five. By now, we know most of the facts about the death of Trayvon. Ms. Alawadi, within a week of Trayvon’s death, was beaten to death in her home with a tire iron. The note left on her body: “Go back to your country, you terrorist.”
These two tragic incidents bring us together at a time when we need to consider what time it is in America. It is a time when we allow self-appointed vigilantes to ride herd on perceived hooded encroachers. It is a time when mothers, who have recently immigrated to America cannot feel safe in their homes. And most importantly, it is a time when we are turning against each other instead of towards each other to advance humanity.
While these two deaths have bound us together in a resolute call for justice, justice is not enough. It is time to peel back our brains, hearts and souls to try to understand why stereotyping, bigotry and racism have raised their heads like the multi-headed mythological Greek character, Hydra. When Barack Obama was elected, many started using the terminology “post-racial.” No, America had not become post-racial, but the election of the President, who stated “Yes We Can” provided the clarion call for what we could be.
Now, ironically, the election of Barack Obama has increased the level of racial enmity and tension.
Politicians, no matter how great their profile or profound their pronouncements, will not be the leaders for human transformation. That job is left to us. That is what we have been saying in the throngs of young, old, black, white, Latino and Asian Americans who want the judicial system to work for Trayvon Martin and his family. Young African American and Latino men, and the counterparts of their generation, want the system to work for anyone who chooses to wear commonly accepted youth attire: a hoodie.
When you see a hoodie, you can’t determine who’s behind it. You have to pry it back and see the skin color. Too many times, you will see someone that is viewed as criminal—first by the media, and then by those millions of individuals that consume that same media.
We’ve heard the horrendous stories of Muslim women who have been asked to “de-scarf” for reasons of public safety. But Muslim women are not the only women of faith who wear headscarves. Many Jews, Orthodox Christians and Chaldeans regularly wear headcoverings. The New Testament Scriptures, in fact, mandate that a woman cover her head. In the Orthodox Jewish community, it is the men who must wear the head covering: the yarmulke.
It is interesting how attire can provide an excuse for violence.
All of the aforementioned members of society have brought significant threads to the fabric of this country. Now, we are contending with the challenge to determine whether those threads can co-mingle under such menacing conditions.
Nationally, more than 5,500 African American men were killed in 2010, according to FBI statistics. Some of those deaths were at the hands of acquaintances, some at the hands of strangers, and still others were at the hands of law enforcement or quasi-law enforcement officials. In these times, when money is exalted and people are trivialized, many of the individuals who shoot or beat someone who is perceived as an “enemy” are reacting to far more than what they see. They are reacting to their own sense of the loss of privilege and power. Thus it is easy to eliminate people of color, women, and even the homeless, regularly beaten on the street.
Clothes are a symbol. They can either bring people together, or make it easier for people to dehumanize, despise and destroy. Our challenge in America is to humanize, to transform our relationships, and to envision and realize a form of humanity which we have never possessed on these shores. Thus we should assemble, not only in hoodies, but in hoodies, hijabs, babushkas, yarmulkes, and kufis. Our survival on the planet requires that we do this. We must not become the victims of militarism, class battles and the diminishment of human life.
In the 1950s, many young white men who wore jeans, including James Dean, were considered juvenile delinquents, and were treated with disdain and incarcerated. How far have we come?