The Weight of Race

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One of the tragedies of racism is that many Americans, most of them white, talk about it as an issue facing African Americans exclusively-and sometimes other ethnic groups -- but not white Americans. In the wake of the Trayvon Martin case, I have heard it said again and again that "African-Americans are angry;" "African-Americans are fearful for their safety;" "African-Americans are disheartened by what this says about the value of their lives in this country." This phrasing, again and again: that this case matters only to African-Americans.

I am a white American man and I say this is an American issue, an American injustice. Many Americans like me are unhappy with this verdict. In a just world people do not judge someone based on skin color and dress; in a just world people are held responsible when they take the life of another; in a just world the victim is not turned into the assailant and the killer the victim of an "assault with the deadly use of a sidewalk."

But more than this, I feel the way I do because young black men like Trayvon Martin are people I love. The deaths of Oscar Grant and now Trayvon Martin have shown clearly the value of young black men's lives. And so I have been shown the safety and value of my best friends' lives, men I grew up with. And the value and safety of their sons' lives, boys I am watching grow up. As a friend to these men and play-uncle to their boys I cannot be ignorant of the danger. I cannot take my son and their sons to the park without this awareness. Young black men are our sons and daughters, our brothers and sisters, our friends, our neighbors, our students and teachers, our patients, our doctors, our co-workers.

When I leave the house this morning, I do so white and free from the weight of the sensation, felt by African-Americans like my friends, that "it could have been me." But I do leave the house with the weight of knowing that "it could have been someone I love." And that is an American weight. And I pray that it is a weight heavy enough to guide us toward justice.

With a Perspective, I'm Simon Abramowitsch.


Simon Abramowitsch teaches composition at UC Davis.