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I was wrong to believe in assumption

My last blog post started out answering a question I received on facebook "Can a white American never be suspicious of a black American?" Some of the content of this post came out of a separate conversation with a friend where I conveyed this idea:

"It is impossible to know whether or not someone was thinking racist thoughts either consciously or subconsciously but I still think that unless we know George Zimmerman was aware of and acted against issues like implicit bias we should assume he was biased. In my opinion it's our refusal to admit our implicit bias (due to our shame) that perpetuates racism.

I further went on to say:

"We all know that racism is strongly alive in America. No one denies that. POC live it though, white people don't. So when POC assume that white people are likely to be racist, or are acting in racist ways (like George Zimmerman), it's not shameful, it's accurate and it's a perspective they have to have in order to protect themselves from the racism that white people don't want to talk about."

You may have noticed I said "it's not shameful." If it seemed out of place or without context, it's because it was. I said it because after conveying the first idea with my friend I was described as shameful because my assumptions were similar to prejudiced assumptions. This has since given me a lot of emotional stress. It hurt me because there was truth in it.

Without reasonable indication that someone was affected by implicit bias in their actions, it is wrong to assume an individual was affected by bias. I still think the points I was making were getting at something important, however the point may have been more fairly made as "POC have to use *caution* with white people because of the relatively high chances that bias could negatively affect their interactions." But, again, it is not okay to look at a problematic situation and assume bias played a role without reasonable indication. That doesn't preclude us from putting in place polices or procedures where bias is statistically relevant, like in police stops.

That said, we don't have to assume George Zimmerman was affected by implicit bias in his assessment of Trayvon Martin. It's clear because he had no indication that Trayvon was engaged in any illegal activities at all, especially not anything like what he was looking for: Burglars. However, he still chose to follow him, even though the 911 operator said they didn't need him "to do that." He characterized Trayvon Martin as a "Fucking Punk" even though he didn't know him and finally Zimmerman's stated reasons for suspicion of Trayvon were behaviors that people partake in every day: like "looking around," "walking in the rain at night" and "not walking along the sidewalk." To me that is indication of implicit bias, bias caused by and rooted in racism. So when you ask me if I think George Zimmerman acted out of racism, I will say yes.

One last thought on shame. Shame is the word I used to start this conversation that I've been engaged in for days. I originally said and I still say that people do not deserve shame over racism, or for any reason. One of the other radical paradigms [1] I am a proponent of is the paradigm that we are all wounded people. We are all capable of immense love yet with this capacity for love comes incredible vulnerability, as individuals and as a society. It is due to this vulnerability that we so easily become wounded, again as a society and as individuals. In our woundedness we believe we are not worthy, that we are bad and are unloving. Shame is the component of this that says we are bad. If we cannot believe that we are actually good, loving and worthy we will perpetuate the behavior that, to us, prove we should be shameful. So that is why I say no one should be ashamed.

The reason I talked about the individual and the society above is to preemptively prepare for arguments that some people are "born evil." While most people are wounded in their first years due to unlove by their parents I think that some people could be wounded while still in the womb through a wounded mother. Other individuals have issues we assume are inherent to the individual: "insanity," "craziness," and "evilness" these, to me, are expressions of the woundedness of society that we don't acknowledge.

1) (because understanding America through a lens colored by Racism is apparently radical to many people)


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