Some weeks ago, Trayvon Martin, a seventeen year old boy walking home from purchasing skittles and soda, was shot and killed by George Zimmerman, a neighborhood watch captain with a history of paranoid behavior. You have probably read about this, and I don't know enough to say much more about it then many other people have said before. But I do have a few thoughts I want to sketch out.
Back in 1994, Patrick Stewart hosted Saturday Night Live. After his role as Captain Jean-Luc Picard, he was associated with a serious, stern character, which made the comic acting he did on Saturday Night Live even more humorous. His opening sketch after the monologue was called "Sexy Cakes", in which he played the proprietor of a an erotic bakery. Several customers would come in and ask to look at sexy cakes, but all of his cakes were variations on one theme: women going to the bathroom. The would-be customers are increasingly confused by this being the only item that the bakery offers. And the proprietor is increasingly confused why people would go into an erotic bakery if not for the purpose of obtaining a cake showing a woman going to the bathroom. With all of Stewart's characteristic British dignity, he informs his confused customers that this is, after all, an erotic bakery.
I grew up in Battle Ground, Washington, and knew all of two black children in elementary school. As a kid, I was raised with a normal amount of childish hatred. That can be quite a bit, and I can't pretend that the world around me was Sesame Street. I picked up prejudice from those around me. But I can say that there weren't that many times growing up, or as an adult, where fear and suspicion were one of my major emotions towards those who were different from me.
One of the subtexts, and indeed publicly spoken messages (by some) of the Trayvon Martin case is that it should be taken for granted that a black youth is dangerous. And since we live in a hostile world, I can see how that can sometimes be true, or that people's fears can exaggerate danger. But Trayvon, from his pictures, looks slightly built, even childish, and to think that a teenager out for a walk to buy candy is a life-or-death threat is something I can't quite grasp.
But I guess for much of the country (and, I will point out the elephant in the room: this is mostly the Southern part of the country), the idea that a black youth is ALWAYS a threat is something that is just taken for granted, and when others don't immediately draw the same conclusion, don't instinctively understand that these are identical, there is much confusion.
If I tried to explain to the holders of these views that they are not part of my currency, not something I was raised with, it would be about as useful as trying to explain to the upright, proper owner of "Sexy Cakes" that my definition of "erotic" is not "a woman going to the bathroom".