By Malinda Seneviratne –
Meanwhile In A Parallel Universe Called Humility; Barack Obama Talks About The 13th Amendment
When Trayvon Martin (black) was shot dead by Mark Zimmerman (white) in February 2012, I said ‘If I had a son, he’d look like Trayvon’. A few days ago, when Zimmerman was found innocent of any wrongdoing, I told the nation to engage in soul searching. I said that that the jury has spoken, meaning that we have to respect the decision. Then I said, ‘Trayvon Martin could have been me 35 years ago’. I have searched my soul, especially about race relations. Here’s what I found.
We talk big. We act small. We layer lie over truth and sprinkle glitter over it. Then we show the magnificent fiction to a world we believe is gullible. We praise Abraham Lincoln and do multiple versions of Martin Luther King’s ‘I have a dream’ speech. We think we are so clever, so classless and so free but I often wonder whether we are peasants or whether we are slaves.
Just this morning I read something from the other side of the world. The Chair of an EU delegation to Sri Lanka, Jean Lambert, after enumerating the positives of reconstruction and democratization, opined that trust building among communities needs to be worked on. It took me back to 1865. That was when slavery was abolished, through the 13th Amendment to our constitution. When it was passed by Congress on January 13, a Trayvon Martin of that time might have smiled. He might have cheered and felt truly free when it was ratified on December 6 the same year.
No one is smiling now. No one is cheering. Well, not the blacks anyway. I asked myself ‘have we reconciled?’ I asked myself what moral authority do I have and do my officials in the State Department have to comment on Sri Lanka’s post-conflict reconciliation process and progress therein. It is almost 150 years since the 13th Amendment was passed. The fact that I, a black man, is President might give the impression that our race relations are cheer-worthy. The truth is that Trayvon Martin’s killing was not an outlier. There have been Trayvon Martin’s before and there will be Trayvon Martins in the futher. Zimmermans too. So too double standards for whites and blacks. If there was an outlier, that’s man, Barack Obama, and maybe this is because it was felt that I was white inside. Maybe I am. I know how to use words. That helps.
I also wondered, in my soul searching exercise, whether we preach democracy, peace, tolerance, co-existence and talk about the values that make America great and bomb those countries which we believe are not as virtuous as us only to cover up. I remembered how we vilify our enemies or rather those who will not submit to us and asked myself if we do this because of a deep sense of national inadequacy.
It’s almost 150 years ladies and gentlemen. We thought we had fixed race-relations and related problems for good. The truth, I am compelled to acknowledge, is that we are not clever, we are not classless, we are not free of racism and we are as divided along lines of color as we were back then.
I am, as I said, an outlier. I thought about it a lot. Soul-searched. We are not a nation. I mean we are not the nation we claim to be. We are a lie. I am a lie. And out-lying one another seems to be an integral part of our national ethos, if such a thing actually exists.
*Malinda Seneviratne is the Chief Editor of ‘The Nation’ and his articles can be found at www.malindawords.blogspot.com