The Power of One’s Personal Story: A Wandering reflection

“In circumstances of real tragedy you see things straight away…past, present, and future together.”
Louis-Ferdinand Céline

Tragedy is the only word I can describe the Trayvon Martin incident. I use the word incident because of the connotations of the word incident. The word incident carries for me the image of a Polaroid. it is a snap shot of not only the historical event in question but our societal and communal reaction as well.

You may ask, with that said, what do I see when I look at the Trayvon Martin incident? For starters the main thing I see, which will of course be the subject of this post, namely that of desultory social discourse on race.On April 5th, an article appeared in the New York Daily News entitled: We Already talk about race. In that article, columnist John McWhorter stipulates that despite what many other columnist and commentators have suggested i.e – “Nobody wants to talk about race” Americans talk about it all the time.  To quote:

..[…] America talks about racism all the time, too. What most people who insist upon a “conversation” about race really seem to mean is that America never thinks racism is important enough, that there is never a grand meeting of minds in which nonblack America finally hears black America out and understands that racism remains America’s most urgent moral tragedy.The truth is, those who claim to crave a discussion about race aren’t really seeking a conversation. They are seeking a conversion.

A Somber Reflection

I remember the few time I articulated some opinions on race, I was either ignored and buffeted with a ominous silence or I got some variant of “you people are always complaining and never have enough“. When I confided in my social studies teachers at my all boys Catholic Preparatory High School that I was harassed by a cop on my way home, he told me I must be exaggerating because cops are here are good people. It made me wondered if he ever studied history at all.

I made am egregious mistake after that incident. I never really talked about race after that, that was the last straw. Silence is the american way really, we  put the Natives on reservation, marginalize statistical minorities and the rest go on living like the past histories of abuse, foreign and domestically arent still visibly present.

We have all bought into the assumption that as time goes on we move forward to more advanced and refined social consciousness from which a more evolved existence necessarily follows. The Civil Right movement didn’t change people’s hearts or their entrench stereotype, perhaps at most it changed legal consequence for certain action. But America is still a very segregated place to me.

What is an experience worth

The American history I got taught in class was very very different from what I read on my own when I hung out in libraries reading everything I could get my hands on.  The works I read were works of proper scholarship but the pictures they painted of America were different.

This brings to mind the truth and Reconciliation Commission in South Africa after apartheid was banned. Witnesses who were identified as victims of gross human rights violations were invited to give statements about their experiences, and some were selected for public hearings. Perpetrators of violence could also give testimony and request amnesty from both civil and criminal prosecution.

This was controversial in many respects but it raised a subtle point: personal private stories came out that really forced one to pay attention that really forced many to rethink things.

A Black woman speaks of her first-born son who resisted the apartheid regime in the uprising of 1985. She describes his birth and how he was named and speaks proudly of his performance at school. Then she tells of the night the security police smashed down the door and dragged him away and about how an anonymous policeman sent for her some days later to come to the mortuary. In horrifying detail, she describes the bruised and almost unrecognizable corpse, riddled with 19 bullet wounds, that had been her son.

Arraigned before the judges in another place are three Afrikaners–ex-security police whose vicious rule once ran throughout apartheid South Africa. One of them reads from a prepared text: “We blindfolded them and took them to a stone quarry outside the town. We hung Subject Number 1 upside down from a tree branch and lit a fire under him. When his hair burned he screamed a lot, then told us everything. The others also confessed. After that, we shot them. Our report said they had resisted arrest.”

I’d like to think that like each of us each nation has a shadow – that part of our unconscious mind consisting of repressed weakness and shortcomings that we reject and keep in the dark. Jung writes that “Everyone carries a shadow, and the less it is embodied in the individual’s conscious life, the blacker and denser it is.”

Each Nation has an oppressive shadow and the more we deny it and skirt around it the more we give the more violent episodes of the past an opportunity to be a force in our current events. I didn’t consider Barack Obama’s election as big a sign of change as everyone did Why you may ask well for starters ? Nothing has changed really to me but that’s another story.

For me, racial issues are a human issue that can only be addressed  collectively. In the US many people have and do suffer from not only racism but an all pervasive bigotry; blacks latinos, asians, as well immigrants, gays, women, the elderly, the sick. It would be nice to just listen to those stories to give them air time without the spin or the co-opting to push political views.

There is a power in telling one’s story, I wish sometimes we could hear these stories over the constant political bickering, celebrity news, etc. Im  thinking about a question J Krishnamurthi asked to end this refelctive moment, and Ill put it here. It’s easy to see our scientific progress, but there is not much progress in the same way at all in our social dealings with each other.

From the bullock cart to the jet plane – that is progress, is it not? Centuries ago there was only the bullock cart; but gradually, through time, we have developed the jet plane. The means of transport in ancient times was very slow, and now it is very rapid; you can be in London within a few hours. Through sanitation, through proper nutrition and medical care, there has been a great improvement also in matters of physical health. All this is scientific progress; and yet we are not developing or progressing equally in brotherhood. Now, is brotherhood a matter of progress?

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  1. Great post, very nice. The Trayvon Martin case is very sad to me. Not just in terms of a child’s life ending early, but in terms of our society’s reaction to it. Racism is very real today and will be very real forever. It saddens me how quickly the media spins a story out of control. It saddens me that so called “leaders” only show their faces when they have calculated the best time to gain the most media exposure. It saddens me that there are kids of all colors who are gunned down every day in our country and their voices are never heard.

    We are a TMZ nation and only the glamarous incidents matter. Personally, I think Zimmerman is guilty as hell. I think he was wanna be cop who thought he was going to teach a young black kid a lesson, then he started getting his ass beat and decided to shoot. But then again, none of us really know the true story. It’s very difficult for me to trust the media with anything. Don’t be surprised if he is found innocent. After all, this is Florida and Casey Anthony was set free.

    It’s hard for me to dive to deep into the racism pool because I’m just a white guy who only experienced racism on a basketball court in high school. Not quite the same as being profiled or harrassed by a redneck asshole cop.

    Now that I think about it, this is truly a redneck issue. I’ve been to Sanford, Fl a few times, they fly their confederate flags high.


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