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  • Writer's pictureShana Ritter

Yes, I am going to write something about Trayvon Martin.

If we change the heart of the story, can we change the ending?

      Writers explore the context of the world we inhabit. Some of us with poem after poem about the natural world, some of us with essays on policy, some of us with stories that peel back the layers of who we are. But all of us bear witness in some way to the world around us and try to make sense of it, for ourselves primarily, and then if we choose for readers. But how do we make sense of injustice?

            I spent years working directly with schools on issues of race and ethnic equity; especially around discipline focused on why so many more young black men  were served consequences that excluded them from school – the very thing we as a society supposedly value so highly. Why am I bringing this up during the week that saw the verdict of George Zimmerman as innocent and the life as Trayvon Martin as forfeit? I am utterly disappointed and disheartened, but I am not surprised at the verdict.

            African Americans are suspended at a national average of three and a half times that of their white counterparts with no evidence to the fact that they misbehave more often. Actually, research reveals black students (and in some areas of the country Latinos or Native Americans, but always and consistently African American students) are accused of infractions that are more subjectively defined. For example, a white student may receive a suspension for smoking, a black student for insubordination.  How many different ways is smoking defined compared to how many different ways insubordination is defined? One is observable, the other an interpretation.  The same way Trayvon’s actions were interpreted as threatening.

            We’re human – we tend to generalizations and bias, we tend towards the familiar and look at what is outside our realm of comfort with incomprehension. The question is not whether or not we tend toward doing this, but what we do about it. I think the more conscious we are, the more able to talk about”it” the better we can address inequity.

            Where do we draw the line between shared universal myths and symbols and shared prejudicial stereotypes and assumptions? 

If we change the heart of the story, can we change the ending?

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