Products Of Broken Systems

Oh dear! Social media is heating up, certainly in America, about the tragic incident which has led to many lives being upended. The case I am referring to is the Trayvon Martin/George Zimmerman debacle. Trayvon Martin is dead. His family is seeking to find a salve through the judicial system to ease the burden of  losing a son. All humanity can empathize with the loss of a close relative or friend, unless you are a psychopath or sociopath. On the other hand, Zimmerman’s life cannot and will never be the same again. He is being held accountable for an action that changed the course of his life. He is in a battle to preserve his freedom, using the channels that are promoted within a civilized society. No one knows what happened in the final moments before tragedy struck. We are left surmise and speculate. But as we do so, human failings, fueled by our feelings about race and the “other”, begins unfortunately to underpin our discussions. Raw emotions are now on display, as the public, with its insatiable appetite for information, get down to the business of adjudicating the case from their lofty perches.

I watched on CNN last evening as the defense hammered away at a witness (Rachel Jeantel) for the prosecution. The legal analysts were as is the norm in conflict about how the proceedings were evolving.  I quickly observed that she adopted a defensive stance. Who can really blame her? She lied about her age among other half-truths, which now puts her credibility on the line. She is thrust into an unfamiliar territory and appears ill-equipped to deal with the rigid legal framework that controls the behaviors in a courtroom.  One word came to mind, “brutal”.

I then took to the social media pages to get a feel of how things stacked up. A quick survey showed that many persons were incensed along racial lines if the profile pictures are actually the real deal. However, what was startling was the number of blacks who were ridiculing the witness, with reference to her physical appearance and her lack of acceptable communication skills. Egad! From our perfect worlds, we continue to strike out against those who do not meet our socially constructed standards. The tragedy of the situation has now been expanded to accommodate comedy at someone else’s expense.

The other witness was more subdued and attempted to bring clarity to the events as she experienced them. Jenna Lauer, was at ease as she described the events and her actions. She was able to provide useful information relating to the sounds she heard. Unfortunately, the identity of who was screaming before the sound of gunshots was heard, was not exposed. This limiting factor again opens the door to speculation.

Now in all of this, I have arrived at a few notions. Nothing to do with the verbal assaults and the nasty tirades that litter our social media pages. Let us take a walk outside of the race quarrel and address how broken systems contribute to the behaviors we see.

Our education system is broken. There are many immigrants who have not been able to assimilate appropriately because of language barriers. In Jeantel’s case, her use of broken English in a formal environment cannot be pointed to as an issue, if adequate support has not been given to integrate her into a society that has adopted the Standard English for formal encounters. The educational sector in this vein, has shoulder some responsibility as well as the first formal training ground for children (family structures), churches and I’m sure we could name a lot more possibilities. She speaks in hushed tones because she is aware that there is an expectation. Expectations that have certainly placed a lot of pressure on her ability to conform to the carefully crafted courtroom rules.  But unfortunately she is unable to eloquently give her story.

There is dysfunction in a number of family structures. Educational goals may not be adopted as a means to improving oneself. The hustle to meet basic needs take priority ahead of being able to communicate in the formal environment. In her case, she may be fluent in Spanish and French. That may well be. But for the moment, the language of current discourse does not come easy to her. Our broken structures have to be re-engineered to provide support to frameworks for socialization. The drive to do this has to be a national effort aimed at integrating   as opposed to placing people into “tidy” little categories. Such categories have further strained the ability of diverse groups to contribute to nation building.

The question is this? What measures will we take to fix our broken/failed systems?  There will be an outcome in the current case. An outcome that will again put the live audience at different parts of the race spectrum. There is no doubt that the possible solutions are numerous. Our challenge is deeply rooted in our varying worldviews twisted through cultural lenses. Narratives handed down from generations have created stereotypes which when tested hold no truths. Distrust of the “other” will perhaps never allow us to change this script.

More anon……

Copyright 2013 Suzette Henry Campbell


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