Eugene Cho

The myth and danger of the suspicious, scary black man.

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Remembering Trayvon Martin.
Today marks the 1 year anniversary of the death of Trayvon – the then 17-year-old unarmed young black man.

As the debates get renewed on this one-year anniversary and most likely to be intensified when the trials for George Zimmerman begin in June, I’m reminded of the ongoing healing and reconciliation that is necessary – not just in “our country” or in “our world” but in truth, in our own hearts and lives.

As we come to the one year mark since Trayvon’s death, we can’t forget his death. There’s too much at stake. Whatever the results of Zimmerman’s trial, we cannot forget Trayvon’s death.

We have to remember that hoodies don’t kill as short skirts don’t rape.

We need to focus on the justice or the injustice and not the wardrobe. We can’t keep finding reasons to excuse our brokenness and unjust ways.

We need to remember that while we don’t ever want to admit that we are racists and perhaps, that’s true but certainly, as I preached this past Sunday, we have all drank the Kool-Aid of racialization meaning that  the categories, perceptions, constructions, and impositions of racial perceptions of race – have influenced us.

Many of us – and likely, ALL of us, have had certain perceptions IMPOSED upon us without even knowing that our lens of seeing race and others have been distorted.

And if this is the case…

we have subconsciously come to see and believe in the myth of the suspicious, scary, and dangerous black man.

Let me explain:

If we’re completely honest…all too often, black men – especially young black men – are seen through the singular story that they are suspicious and scary…if not dangerous. And this, in itself, is unjust. This is racist.

Some years ago, I recall having a very raw and honest conversation with one of my congregants at Quest – the church I planted 12 years ago and have the joy of continuing to serve as one of its pastors.

To be more specific, I was having a conversation with a young African-American congregant – one of the few at Quest if I’m honest.

He shared this story that remains seared in my mind:

“Pastor Eugene, you speak of injustice and prejudice. Thank you for sharing you story. I wanted to also share my story with you. In fact, I feel my “otherness” every single day. Every single day.

You see, I get on the Seattle Metro Bus early on its transit up North as it makes its way South to downtown Seattle where I work. As you can assume, the bus gets eventually crowded. In fact, it gets packed. But when I get on the bus, I am always among the first ten passengers and each of us can choose where to sit. And yes, we all choose to sit…alone. But as the bus makes it way from stop to stop, I begin to notice something. People are eager to find seats and every single day, every seat is taken…but nearly every single day…one seat remains…the last seat taken.

Can you guess what seat that is?

Yes, it is the seat next to me. It is the last seat taken. Nearly every single damn day.

Do you know why?
Do you know why?

…It’s because I am a dark-skinned Black Man…and people believe I am dangerous. 

This is how I begin my day.
Nearly every day.
This is my story.”

This is an example of the hidden injustice and danger of the singular story.

And while the Zimmerman/Trayvon trial will need to be played out through our judicial system, this is the kind of thought and racialization (add gender and class) that needs to be carefully, courageously, and prayerfully examined in our own lives…

and however slowly but surely, need to be redeemed.

What does it mean to seek justice? 
What does it mean to live justly?
What does it mean for justice be done to us?
What does it mean to be reconcilers?
What does it mean to be peacemakers?

In remembering his death, I don’t want to reduce it to a mere righteous self-portrait of ourselves wearing a hoodie…or myself wearing a hoodie. May we live out the call and commitment as doers of justice and ambassadors of reconciliation.

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27 Responses

  1. Chris says:

    Honesty? It’s hard not to be suspicious of a group that makes up 11.6 % of the population & commits 60% of the crimes.
    #biased #DOJ

    • lesego says:

      this is racist.

    • Steph says:

      “commits 60% of the crimes” or is should it be *charged with 60% of the crimes*?? Lots of people…lots of white people…commit crimes. every day. But are they being persecuted and charged at the same rates as the African American population? Do the statistics out there about “crime” tell the whole story?

      • Rachel says:

        This exactly. For a great example of this look at the difference of conviction and jail time rates between crack and cocaine abuse. Essentially same drug, but different clientele = extremely different outcome in our current legal system.

  2. Joshua says:

    It is also best if we remember that it was young men, many of them black, that were breaking into houses in Zimmerman’s neighborhood in the months that led up to the shooting. If we really want to talk about justice, the young men that burglarized houses in that neighborhood and the system (and usually gangs) that made burglary seem like a good option are just as much to blame for the tragedy as Zimmerman or Martin. And without actual proof of racism we are just as judgmental and discriminatory towards Zimmerman if we assume racism and racial profiling before we look at the evidence.

    Trayvon’s death was indeed a tragedy, but until we see the evidence we won’t know if it points to Zimmerman or Martin picking the fight that ended up with Zimmerman bloodied and beaten and Trayvon shot.

    I have to wonder. If it turns out the evidence points to Zimmerman picking the fight, what will happen? Will others respond in hatred? If it turns out that Martin picked the fight will people disbelieve the evidence? If it is impossible to tell will all hell break loose?

    And for those that want to talk about self defense, how do we draw that line clearly? Was Martin defending himself when approached by a skeptical Zimmerman? Did Zimmerman shoot in self defense when on bottom and being beaten?

    At the bottom this case will reveal things we often forget about reality and about ourselves. 1) The truth is often complicated and hard to unearth, and 2) the way we go about pursuing the truth in hard cases says just as much about us as the truth we uncover, the uncertainty we must endure, and the way we respond when the evidence is inconclusive, or when it supports or contradicts our feelings and initial thoughts on something.

    • Hk says:

      Really? A neighborhood volunteer watch guy decides to pursue a 17 yr old kid who clearly did not want to be followed. Police told him to back down and he didnt. Who cares if zimmerman was on top or bottom. He should have gotten his butt kicked for making a ruckus when none needed to be made and that should have ended there. He escalated this to the next level by pulling out the gun. That is unacceptable.

      • Jeff says:

        First- Zero evidence to prove GZ “pursued” TM. And a 911 operator is not a cop and can only give suggestions. Their word is not law. Following a suspicious person to provide info to police is not a crime.

        Second- Zero evidence that GZ even continued to follow after operator said “We don’t need you to do that”.

        Third- All evidence points to TM on top, in an “aggressor” position.

        Fourth- The need to defend oneself is solely at the discretion of the person who is in the “victim” role. Having your head slammed into the concrete definitely outs GZ in the victim role.

        Last- The investigation initially proved no charges were necessary. It was determined to be an open and shut self defense case. That is until race was brought up and the local government was forced to file charges at the risk of looking racist or intolerant.

        Please educate yourself on ALL of the facts of the case, not just main stream media, before you speak. It’s blind followers like you that will cause outrage and riots when GZ is aquitted.

  3. Alyson says:

    Excellent and thought provoking.

  4. Marc says:

    It is true that our preconceived or even unconcious notions of what certain people are like do color our initial view of them. We cannot do much to change that. Women alone walk faster when they see an unfamiliar male of any color walking behind them. Black mothers warn their children about being in certain neighborhoods at certain time of day or night. Latino dads tell their children not to hang out with people of certain ethnicities. None of this behavior is based on any real evidence that the “other” poses a real threat. All we can hope to do is to seek to press on beyond our prejudices. This works best when there is time to think. When all we are doing is reacting to a perceived imminent threat, we don’t think it all through, and sometimes tragic things happen. Who is to blame? That is very difficult to determine! Maybe all of us are victims in some way.

  5. Mike Dean says:

    Thank You.
    The remembrance is critical.
    Ironically my first glance saw a Hooded Jesuit Monk.
    I Jumped.
    My bigotry,
    On display.

  6. Dwayne says:

    Let me see if I understand; an over-zealous Hispanic man pursues someone he deems suspicious BEFORE he even has knowledge of the young man’s ethnicity. An altercation ensues and, as a result, the Hispanic man shoots the young black man. Now, Eugene, you set yourself up as judge, jury, and executioner by bringing an indictment on ‘all’ people (whites in particular, because the over-arching sentiment is that young black men as a group are the victims in this), telling them, in so many words, that it is our duty to hold “special” rememberances of the death of this young man and that, as “non-black” people, we have a duty to share a collective pang of guilt because our thoughts and actions created the environment that made this tragedy an inevitability. It may be news to you, Eugene, but a trial must take place to try to determine what really happened, but, at first glance, the long and the short of it would be that an idiot took matters into his own hands – when he should have called the police and WAITED for them – and ended up killing an unarmed young man who was pounding his face because of his stupid choice. The color of Martin’s skin had nothing to do with it. Hoodies have nothing to do with it. You have been sucked in by the sensationalists (or perhaps you are just one yourself) and are regurgitating the same vitriolic, racist filth the most hardened skinhead would be proud of. A man killed another man, this must be dealt with – but to broadbrush all other ethnicities (I don’t believe in the different races, there is only one – the human race) by suggesting that this act is indicative of a mindset common to all “non-black” peoples is in itself the purest form of racism. Going forward, I won’t miss your posts now that I see that you are blown about by every wind. I will say a prayer for you tonight (seriously, I don’t say that unless I mean it) that the Father helps you anchor your God-given wisdom in Him.

    • Joshua says:

      Dwayne I have to ask seriously whether you read Eugene’s full blog post? You seem to be reacting strongly to a few pieces taken out of context.

      I agree that the tragic death of Trayvon Martin has been used by many to further their own platforms even before the evidence has been laid to bear in trial, but I don’t think that accurately describes what Eugene is doing here. He has acknowledged that the trial is necessary to judge what happened. He has distinguished between racism (fueled by fear and hate) and racialization (fueled by lack of understanding and experience.) And in all of this he is calling for reconciliation.

      In my mind that makes Eugene’s actions and reflections far less like the sensationalist Rev. Jesse Jackson or the racist skinhead that wants anything but reconciliation than your interpretation bears out.

      Conversations about race are not easy. Let’s not make them harder by taking the worst interpretation of what anyone says in an online forum as what they must have meant and attacking them for it. I do my best to give everyone the benefit of a little doubt.

      As a white male that attends Quest Church I can assure you that blame is the furthest thing from Eugene’s heart. Blame is a fruit of bitterness and he wants no part of that. Rather, he wants to see true reconciliation occur as part of the work of the kingdom of God. Reconciliation will never occur if we are unwilling to even talk about these issues and engage with other people’s stories.

  7. Ryan says:

    I look at it this way – Even if it is found that Zimmerman is innocent, even if it is found that he was justified, both men may have been judged based on misperceptions and stereotypes. These events simply remind us that we still have a lot of learning and healing to do.

    That’s what’s important to remember.

  8. […] “We have to remember that hoodies don’t kill as short skirts don’t rape. We need to focus on the justice or the injustice and not the wardrobe. We can’t keep finding reasons to excuse our brokenness and unjust ways.”-Eugene Cho, Remembering Trayvon Martin: The Singular Story of the Suspicious Dangerous Black Man […]

  9. L. Moore says:

    This is the story of two men and two traffic stops which took place around 12 noon. Both men are happily married. They attend the same church and the same men’s Bible study. They are both viewed as valuable members of the church and community. They are friends. Several months ago the first man was stopped by police. His wife was in the car with him at the time. He was told that the license tag on his truck had expired five months ago. He was given a citation. The officer was courteous and polite. Recently the second man was in his car with his daughter, 12, and his nephew, 14. He was approached by two officers with guns drawn for an expired decal by the local college police. He pointed out that he had children in the car and that the guns were unnecessary. One of the guns remained trained on him during the stop. Here is the question – you may poll the audience or call a friend if you like – which of these men is African American and which is white? If you are having trouble with this question, then it’s time to become more aware of the discrimination that still exists in our city. Just so there is no misunderstanding, I am the wife of the first man. We are white.

    This most recent event has only reinforced our decision to live our lives in a way that attempts to recognize our own racial biases and to acknowledge the privileges that have been ours as a result of being white. It has been a revelation to recognize that those privileges, which are often thought of as part of the American birthright, are largely the privileges of a white birthright and have not been shared by African Americans. It never occurred to us that there was any limitation on where we could live, work, or go to school. We didn’t come from rich families, but our parents were college educated, and there was never any doubt that we, in turn, would go to college and be successful at whatever we decided to do. We also never doubted that law enforcement was there to protect us.

    But we now realize that the life that we have lived was not conducted on a level playing field, and that the color of our skin has done much to influence its outcome. We searched for and found a church that is consciously working for racial reconciliation. At long last we have found a place tto worship hat does not deny racial conflict and differences. We are not trying to become colorblind, not trying to become alike. We are trying to understand and come to grips with the pain and limitations and the tremendous costs that a racialized society has produced so that we can move on to celebrate the richness of the diversity God has created.

    This journey of intentional racial reconciliation for me as a white person is humbling beyond imagination. When you come to realize that your view of the world has been through blinders, that the things that you take for granted as part of the normal fabric of life have not been shared by human beings of a different color, you feel very small, and very guilty. Thankfully, God does not intend for the story to end there.

    I am filled with the overwhelming sense that our friend who sat at gun point recently sat there in a place that could well have been mine. I lay awake that night and thought of his ordeal and prayed for God’s presence to be mighty for him. I sensed that I was not alone in those prayers. The next morning I read on Damien’s Facebook page, “Today is going to be a good day…because God has set my feet on solid ground.” So this man, who has been through what for me is an unthinkable horror, has trusted God and believed that God is with him and for him. I see that God has gained a victory, and I delight in that triumph. And today the racial divide in our city is a tiny bit smaller because I have shared my brother’s pain. I have been sickened with the fear of what could have happened. I have known the injustice that he suffered and the fear that his daughter and nephew must have felt. And most powerfully of all, God has heard and answered prayers. How can I feel anything less than awed admiration for a man who can survive that kind of trauma and proclaim his faith in a benevolent God. My husband and I are honored that he calls us friends.

    I would like to add that this is in no way intended as “police-bashing.” The police, like the rest of us, are products of our culture. They are under tremendous pressure and regularly operate in a difficult and dangerous environment. The challenge for us as a community of believers is to understand the racial strife that is at work here and to pray for God’s protection and healing, both for the police and for the population they are sworn to protect. The Bible tells us that lawlessness will increase. As it does, incidents like this are likely to increase as well. Our place is to recognize that our African American brothers and sisters often have cause to fear both the lawlessness and law enforcement and to pray for God’s intervention and protection. I know this is going to sound funny, and and I am not trying to be humorous, but my first thought when I heard about the guns being pointed was to think, “I would grab my cell phone and call the police.” It’s an absurd response, but it demonstrates how deeply our own cultural experiences determine our attitudes and responses. The encouraging part of all this is that God has presented us with a problem that we cannot solve by human means. It provides us with the opportunity to seek healing and reconciliation on a level that only the Holy Spirit can perform in our hearts. For this I am truly thankful.

    I do not flatter myself that I now “get it,” that I understand what if means to black in Richmond, Virginia today. I will never fully know that. But I have had a glimpse, a glimpse that has changed me, a glimpse that comes, I think, from Paul’s word to the Galatians to bear one another’s burdens. I cannot return to the complacent security of feeling that the mechanisms of society will suffice to protect those I love. God has allowed me to share in my brother’s experience. Whether or not my participation in his pain in any way reduced his own suffering is a secret known only in the heart of God. What I do know for certain is that our stories are now linked in a way that they were not linked before and that we are standing together on the solid rock of Jesus. who gave His life as a sacrifice for us all.

  10. […] a racial minority.  I have never been pulled over in a black neighborhood for driving while white, eyed suspiciously when boarding a bus, or followed in a department store by security.  Most of us who are fair-skinned go through our […]

  11. The Last Don says:

    The author of this article is taking sides. Very strange and judgmental. You are not God and you were not there. However, you have already pronounced judgement.

  12. The Last Lion says:

    Trayvon was armed. He had his fist, he was high and he was dumb enough to strike another man. This whole thing should have never gone to trial. Obama stuck his nose where it didn’t belong and caused protest until the DA in FL caved to public opinion instead of following the letter of the law. All Trayvon had to do was keep walking that night and he would still be alive.

  13. […] truly our brother and sisters in Christ; And if we are truly the Body of Christ as we profess…can’t we just shut up, listen, and hurt with them? Can we possibly try to listen, hear, and capture a glimpse of why they are upset, concerned, […]

  14. […] truly our brothers and sisters in Christ; And if we are truly the Body of Christ as we profess…can’t we just shut up, listen, and mourn with them? Can we possibly try to listen, hear, and capture a glimpse of why they are upset, concerned, […]

  15. […] But my heart breaks to think maybe it won’t always look like that. Maybe he won’t always live in a neighborhood with kids who look like him and who look like me and who look like a rainbow of ethnic heritage. What will the future hold for my beautiful, brown nephew as he grows older? Will he get pulled over when he’s driving his first car because he’s out late? When he works hard will he still get passed over for a promotion? Will strangers be afraid to sit by him on the bus? […]

  16. […] Because of the sin of racism and the abhorrent history of slavery in this country, we still fight the myth of the suspicious, scary black man. […]

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