The Evil Within Us

By Tim Graves

I detest McDonald's food. I suppose you'd expect that of a vegetarian. I do, however, stop to use the fast food restaurant's public restroom while traveling. I've noticed that the McDonald's breakfast hour tends to attract older men, presumably retired, clustered over coffee.  Recently at a McDonald's in Portland, I overheard a comment about the Trayvon Martin killing. Following a long, somewhat winding description of the most recent news, an older white man concluded, "So we've got one man's opinion." He referred to the recent analysis by two voice experts of the 911 call which includes someone screaming.

During the earliest days of Internet research, helping my education students distinguish between information from a reputable source and information from someone with an opinion was challenging. We live in an era when everyone has the potential to air their opinion. 

Not every opinion or conclusion is equally valid. For example, because of my training and experience in child development and early childhood education, I have some authority when talking about children and human behavior. Likewise, my education and ordination into Christian ministry gives me some authority and knowledge about pastoral care of others, spirituality, and theology. My preference for an Apple computer over a Windows computer, however, is just "one man's opinion".

None of us know the full details of what led to the shooting and killing of teenager Trayvon Martin. I don't know the heart of George Zimmerman nor Trayvon Martin. I do know about human behavior and relationships. While I am not a racism-expert, my web of unique experiences as well as my education convinces me that we cannot view the shooting and killing of Trayvon Martin without an awareness of race.

Racism is insidious. It is systemic in our nation. As a white man I am privy to privileges that I often don't even notice. I am not intentionally racist but I do benefit from racism. I also have unconscious racist attitudes simply because of the culture in which we live. To pretend otherwise is to increase the likelihood that I will take overtly racist actions. (I wrote about a recent encounter with my own subtle racism here.)

The overarching storyline of the Bible bends toward love. God adapts to our free choices, encouraging us to become more loving. The importance of radical hospitality to the stranger, flows through both Christian testaments. Always God desires us to become the loving human beings we were created to be. We show that love by reaching out to others. When we love, we reflect the Imago Dei (the image of God). 

Racism buried within us, closes us off from the Imago Dei. Racism is the buried hatchet with the handle sticking out in America. It is real. It is here. It is hatred and it is evil. To say so is not to dismiss the progress made, but to pretend that we are post-racial is to risk losing that progress. 

It is likely that the man who shot and killed Trayvon Martin was frightened. It is possible that his unrecognized, racist attitudes and feelings propelled him to kill a boy walking to his father's house with a bag of Skittles. This - THIS - is why it is critical that we're aware of our own subconscious racism. Until we are, we have no hope of overcoming this evil. Until we are, Trayvon Martin will not be the last victim.