Trayvon Martin and Jordan Davis remind me that Florida is only three generations removed from the horrific sight of black bodies swaying from the knotted branches of our oak trees.
Florida is a diverse state with people of a wide range of ethnic and racial backgrounds and all shades of skin color. And you would think amidst all this diversity we could have open and honest discussions about race. Yet, when I engage in conversations about racial profiling and Stand Your Ground laws I see two separate and opposing Floridas.
A White Florida and a Black Florida.
And as a student of race relations and a person with a growing awareness of my own white privilege, now is a painful and difficult time to live in Florida.
The White Florida continually shifts the conversation towards living in fear.
The overwhelming majority of white Floridians want to live in all white neighborhoods. Neighborhoods they remind me…”where people speak English.”
I have been told by white Christian men that “if racism exists– its white people who are the victims.”
This fear is the real- and often unspoken- reason for the Stand Your Ground law.
But I hear about a different Florida from my black friends.
There are towns where they wouldn’t dare to even drive through.
Driving while black is a hazard in neighborhoods where aluminum roofs are painted in larger than life confederate flags.
One of my black clergy friends lobbied to have the town’s bridge named after Martin Luther King Jr. only to be run out of town the night white men came shooting bullets into the windows of his home.
And on TV I watch as the parents of Travon Martin and Jordon Davis continue to speak to anyone who will listen. Decrying a system that criminalizes being black.
When the Zimmeran verdict was released the sunshine state braced for rioting the likes of which we hadn’t seen since Rodney King. But the riots never came. Instead Floridians swallowed their anger.
But now it starting to bubble up.
How are white people responding?
For starters, white people are buying more guns, making it one of the top selling Christmas presents this past year. Whites continue to self-segregate, choosing all white neighborhoods, schools and churches.
Meanwhile Black Florida is organizing. The NAACP held its first Moral Monday in Florida, based on the successful model used in North Carolina. The past three years of organizing in North Carolina reached a climax last month when over 100,000 people rallied at the state capitol, putting pressure on elected officials to ensure that laws have moral integrity.
The first Moral Monday rally at the state capital was a momentous occasion held in Tallahassee on March 3 drawing hundreds black people, and a handful of white people from across the Sunshine State. “We live in a country with immoral laws,” proclaimed Bishop A.J. Richardson, of the African Methodist Episcopal Church, “we, you and I have learned through experience that what is legal is not always the equivalent of what is moral.”
Next week the Rev. Al Sharpton is organizing a rally in Tallahassee on Monday, March 10, specifically to call attention to the Stand Your Ground law. One of the groups planning to attend is the Dream Defenders, student organizers from college campuses across Florida that are promoting peaceful, non-violent resistance to laws that are manipulated to justify racial profiling and murder.
But it is an open question whether the White Florida will engage in the struggle for justice and freedom for all? Or will this be just another moment in history where whites will exercise the right to remain silent? After all, white teenage boys in Florida aren’t the ones getting killed for looking suspicious or playing their music too loud. I hope White Florida will become part of the solution. Join the effort to create a society where young black boys are not afraid to go outside because they might get shot.
I hope that white Floridians will listen the testimonies of what it is like to be a black youth.
As one 10 year old, baby cheeked black boy asked me in a quivering soft voice, “do I look like a threat to you?”
His very real question hit the core of me as I realized how toxic our race relations have become. Poising the dreams of our young.
But I fear that a majority of White Florida will continue with business as usual.
Feeling as if race has nothing to do with them and their Florida.