Walking a Mile in Trayvon’s Shoes

“Don’t judge a man until you have walked two moons in his moccasins.”
Sharon Creech, Walk Two Moons

Unfortunately, I believe most of us don’t have to try too hard to identify with Trayvon Martin. Over the last week or so, many friends have recalled stories in which they were stopped and questioned — or not questioned — based on what they were wearing and, at least from a distance, the way they looked.

Consider the case of the white man with the long hair and beard stopped twice by the same Kansas state cop over the course of a year. Then, there was the friend, an African American woman who happened to be wearing a hoodie, stopped by authorities blocks from her parents’ house in a well-to-do suburb of Saint Louis. Another female friend with out-of-state plates was stopped while traveling a route favored by drug traffickers only to be told she “wasn’t who they were looking for” as the officer approached the car.

And I vividly remember being stopped at a sobriety checkpoint while in a car full of other Asian American women on the way to a conference event. None of us were drunk, but all of us needed a stiff one after the driver, who happened to be the brownest among us, was thoroughly questioned about where we had been, where we were going, and whose car we were driving to get there.

This is not to say that I understand the plight of the black man, only that I and many others can understand what it feels like to be reduced to a stereotype. Why, in modern America, is this still the case? Is it the fault of media outlets that still too often use stereotypes as shorthand? Is it, as this opinion column from Walter E. Williams points out, the fact that African American males under 18 are statistically more likely than others to commit certain crimes, “showing a strong interconnection among race, youth and crime, are a far better explanation for racial profiling and suspicion than simple racism.”

Or is it hidden biases that we all harbor so deeply within our subconscious minds that the reasons behind them can never be identified, much less uprooted? Those are the biases that make us lean casually on our door locks when we drive into certain areas or prompt us to cross the street when a “threatening-looking” person approaches.

While we may identify with Travyon Martin, I’d argue that many of us have also walked a mile or two George Zimmerman’s shoes. But, who am I to judge?

Take these demonstration tests from Harvard University to discover your hidden biases.

18 thoughts on “Walking a Mile in Trayvon’s Shoes

  1. You make such a good, though difficult to admit to oneself, point. It is easy to feel sympathy, if not empathy for Trayvon Martin, but many of us make snap judgements about others all the time without thinking even after being on the receiving end of such judgements.

  2. Sometimes it`s not the shoes you walk in as much as it is the location of the mile walked. I`ve walked the streets of downtown El Paso, Chicago, New York,Los Angeles and the docks in Miami – in all of those locations, over a period of 35 years, I was the outsider, the minority, the interloper, the suspicious one – and contrary to what some are inclined to believe, in some of those walks I survived simply because I did have a weapon, I am grateful I never had to put that tool to work, but much like planting corn, having the right tool readily available is the difference between success and failure. Some folks would say”don`t walk there”, if we adhere to that school of thought, the haters,racists and true bad guys win, because much like the schoolyard bully that waits for you at the bus stop, if you continue to pay him, he will always be there emboldened by his success – if you bloody his nose he will stop.

  3. Are we talking about bias or experience here?

    Bias: a particular tendency or inclination, especially one that prevents unprejudiced consideration of a question; prejudice.
    Experience: knowledge or practical wisdom gained from what one has observed, encountered, or undergone.

    Stereotypes are not formed without a basis. While I find this case disturbing on both sides, how you present yourself DOES matter. I hate to agree with Geraldo (I just gagged) but he was not wrong. Pick a random picture from Occupy and it likely has someone with their face covered and wearing a hoodie. This has become the stereotyped image of Occupy.
    The Martin supporters are making hoodies a statement of racial solidarity. Ironic since I can think of another group who wore hoods for the same purpose. Think about that though– DHS has a ‘see something, say something’ video showing bombers wearing hoodies, the Unabomber sketches were of a man in a hoodie, Occupiers trashing and protesting have a lot of them in hoodies. We’ve been trained by the media to perceive someone in a hoodie as a threat and now are being called racist for it.

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