Saturday, April 7, 2012

Racial Ramble: More on Trayvon Martin and George Zimmerman by Way of My Husband and the Game of Golf

The tragic case of Trayvon Martin’s death is receding from the public eye and from public memory just six weeks after it happened. I have to wonder if the public has gotten their fill of the event and decided to move on. It appears the media have. Perhaps they have nothing new to report. More current events must be reported, I suppose. I am saddened that our memories and passion are so short.
George Zimmerman must be held accountable for his actions that night, but he still has not been charged. I wrote in my last post that he is not evil, but simply human. That doesn’t mean he should be allowed to walk the streets free after his actions. Others out there who think what he did is right and righteous must know that with the right to bear arms comes great responsibility. All freedoms come with responsibility.
What upsets me the most is that some people want to believe the tragedy was not racially motivated. Yes, George Zimmerman is interethnic – Caucasian and Hispanic – but we don’t know how Zimmerman identifies, and we certainly don’t know his thoughts on race except for what he said on the 911 tape, some of which is garbled. What he actually considered suspicious about Trayvon is a mystery, but it certainly appears it was because Trayvon was a black teenager wearing a hoodie.
 Every day black boys and black men are at risk of being identified as suspicious, and that suspicion can turn dangerous and deadly within a few minutes.
I can’t get out of my head how accurate that above statement is and how intimately familiar it feels when thinking about my life and my husband’s experiences.
My husband plays golf regularly. There is something called a gang some here in this southern state. It’s a group of men who play competitively on a daily basis. Teams are assembled from a pool of four levels of players.  The A player on each team is allowed to pick a B, C and D level player. On the gang some my husband joined some months back, many of the men have played together for over thirty years. They are mostly white men. They mostly don’t like my husband. The few blacks on the gang some are older than my husband and don’t speak up about how the white men playing alongside them often treat them disrespectfully. They avoid talking to Ronald. They are from down here, and they remember Jim Crow laws. They know their place and are okay with occupying it.
Ronald was put in the D pool of players. He has played golf, and played well, for over thirty years, but the grass down here is different, thicker, viny, straight instead of bent, and he has had to change his game to adjust to it, so his scoring has dropped a little. Though, even with that fact, he should never have been put in the D level and belongs in the B or A level.
The funny thing is, he comes home with cash in his pocket every day. Some of the men on the teams he has played on have never once made money in all the years they played the gang some, and suddenly, after he gets on their team, they’ve begun winning.
It makes a lot of the men angry and suspicious.
“Have they accused you of sandbagging yet?” I ask him when he comes home and pulls a wad of bills out of his pocket.
“No, but they must be wondering,” he responds.
“Well, they put you in the Ds, they have to live with it,” I say. He didn’t ask to be put in the lowest level skill group.
Some of the men won’t acknowledge Ronald, even if they are on his team. They don’t speak to him even when he asks a direct question. They talk while he hits his tee shot and walk in front of his line to the green when he is hitting in the fairway. He is invisible or at least they wish he were.
“What will happen if they tell Ronald they don’t want him to play?” my friend asks me when I relate some of the things that happened on the gang some.
“It’s a municipal course. They can’t tell him he can’t play,” I respond.
Other guys on the gang some have rifled through his golf bag when they thought he wasn’t looking and sometimes when they knew he was.
A few have confronted him.  One accused him of not putting his money in the skins pot (or scats as they call them down here) even though he had. One said he cheated on a hole when he took a ball drop. That white man was on another hole, and he used the f-word with “mother” in front of it. Ronald told him it wasn’t his business and that he ought to learn the rules of golf. Then Ronald told him that he would pull out of the hole, if he had a problem, and picked up his ball and took a double bogey. The guy still wouldn’t back down. Ronald used the f-word, too, even though he doesn’t usually, but he’s told me in the past that sometimes that’s the only way a white guy will listen.
One of Ronald’s team members picked up his own bag and walked off the course when the exchange occurred. He hadn’t said a word to Ronald the whole time they played. Back at the clubhouse the gang some leader said, “I heard you tried to cheat.”
“Cheat? I don’t cheat,” Ronald said. Then he explained what happened.
“Oh, well that part of the course is ‘ground under repair.’ You could have taken a free drop, no stroke penalty,” the leader said, but he didn’t say he’d talk to the other guy for spoiling Ronald’s round.
The guy who had accused Ronald of cheating slunk through the crowd and left. Ronald stopped going for a few days. He said it was stressful and affecting his game. I told him, “They won. They don’t want you there, and you gave them exactly what they wanted.”
He returned the next day. “You’re right,” he said. “If I stopped going every place white people didn’t want me, I wouldn’t go anywhere.”
The next evening I went with him to the course so I could walk nine holes while he played. We ran into a couple of black guys and they joined us. Ronald said all the black guys come out at dusk and play the course, after the white guys have gone home for the day.
“They sure don’t like you, bro’,” said one. “All they do is talk about you.”
“I told him they don’t want him here,” I said. “I told him, ‘bad enough you’re black; bad enough you are from up north; and bad enough you take their money every day.”
The guy laughed. “Three strikes against him. But you gotta keep going back. Don’t let them stop you.”
Another of Ronald’s black acquaintances had played on the gang some a few times. Then he told Ronald he hated it. “Why do I want to play with a bunch of rednecks who don’t want me there?”
I guess if someone has to do it, Ronald’s the best choice. That knowledge scares me, but I can’t keep him boxed and wrapped in tissue paper in the closet so he doesn’t get damaged. I’ve already accepted that as his wife I might one day find the police knocking on my door to tell me something I don’t want to hear. This is America.
He’s the best choice for representing on the gang some because he won’t let them get away with anything, just like he didn’t let the white guys on the fire department do whatever they wanted and force him off the job. Or when the white seller didn’t want to sell the house to us because we are interracial. Or when the car salesman wouldn’t let Ronald test-drive the Acura RL because, he said, “You can’t afford this car.”
Ronald bought the car a week later from another salesman while the first guy watched with his mouth open. He tried to claim Ronald was his customer. “No, I’m not. You didn’t want to sell me a car,” Ronald said. “And I’ve spoken to your manager about it.”
As we continued on the course, we ended up with another group of three black men. It was getting dark and a storm was blowing in. There was no one else on the course, anyway, so they played as one big group. The other three black men were circumspect at first. I know they were thinking, “What kind of trouble are we going to be in when they see six black men out here with a white woman?”
I wasn’t worried. I’d been in that situation many times before, and whether it’s the police or just some “concerned” citizen asking if I am there of my own volition, I have an answer for them. Even as a middle-aged woman, white men still think I’ve been coerced. They can’t imagine that I want to be there. They can’t imagine Ronald is my husband.
Once I fainted at the mall when Ronald and I were out shopping. He went into fire lieutenant mode and ran the scene until the first responders got there. They were relatively new firefighters, and, even though Ronald was retired by then, they addressed him as lieutenant. They knew him from the job, but they didn’t realize he was more to me than the Good Samaritan.
“Can we call someone, ma’am, to meet you at the hospital?”
“I guess you can call my husband, but he’s already heard you. He’s right here.”
There were a lot of apologies all around.
We got caught in the thunderstorm on the last hole and ran back to our cars. I jumped into the passenger seat, but as Ronald was loading his clubs into the back of the SUV and changing his shoes, one of the other guys walked up to him to say good-bye.
“Don’t stop going. You’ll just give them what they want,” he said.
I have to keep asking myself “what do white people want?” They want to say they aren’t racist, but their actions are often the opposite of what they say. It’s easy to tell someone like my husband that they read into everything and look for racism. That puts the blame on the victim by questioning his credibility. That’s the easy way out. Then no one has to change anything about what they want, what they think, or how those two things contribute to racism in America.
Trayvon knew he was in trouble when he saw George Zimmerman trailing him. He knew it wouldn’t end well. Did he know it would end his life? Should he have just stayed home so he wouldn’t have run into Zimmerman? Maybe his father wished he had boxed and wrapped him in tissue paper and stored him safe in the closet, so the police wouldn’t have knocked on his door that night and told him something he didn’t want to hear.  But Trayvon had a right to be outside that night. Zimmerman is the one who needed to ask what he wanted when he trailed Trayvon and decided to pull the trigger.

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