Trayvon Martin and the Power of Cultural Narrative

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What narrative did Trayvon Martin believe that kept him from calling the police when he noticed some creepy guy following him? – Paul D. Watson

If some creepy looking dude followed me in my neighborhood, I’d call the cops and make a beeline for my house.  That would be my first response, even though I’m a trained martial artist and a CHL holder.  But, since I was a small kid, my parents taught me that Police Officers were safe, that they ‘protect us from the bad guys.’ Even growing up, I’ve never had a negative experience with any member of the Law Enforcement Community.  I’ve had a couple of traffic tickets, but I was in the wrong and the Officer in each case was very professional and courteous.

What if I grew up with a completely different story?  What if I never saw a police officer that had the same skin color that I have?  What if I lived in a neighborhood where my only encounter with police officers was when they arrested my friends and family?

This is not a post about who was right and wrong.  I’m not evaluating Trayvon Martin or George Zimmerman.  I’m not judging whether people arrested by Police Officers were in the wrong or not.  I’m simply asking a question: If Police Officers do not play a ‘hero’ role in your cultural narrative, then why would you call them if you were in trouble?

The cultural narrative that kept Trayvon Martin from dialing 9-1-1 on February 26, 2012, is a pervasive problem in our society.  There are entire communities of white, black, and brown peoples that have negative cultural narratives when it comes to Police Officers, or people in authority.  These cultural narrative may, or may not, be based on their own experience.  More than likely, these cultural narratives became part of their personal worldview at an extremely early age, before their personal experience could confirm or deny what they were told.  Whether right or wrong, this is their reality.

So here is the question:  How do we work together so that a cultural narrative where Police Officers are the enemy can be replaced with one in which they are heroes?  If we can do that, then maybe the next time a young man will dial 9-1-1 when someone follows them home.

2 Comment

  1. Tragically, the ways diverse communities interpreted the media coverage of this case most likely reinforced their discordant cultural narratives. Jesus rocked the cultural narrative of his original audience when he told the story we naively call “The Good Samaritan.” That would have been an oxymoron for the people to whom he spoke.

    It takes a new, truer, narrative to replace a faulty one. I am convinced this is the power of Discovery–people are exposed to a new/old narrative that rewires how they see themselves, what is wrong with their environment and what can/should be done to effect change.

    1. Paul Watson says:

      Exactly, John. I couldn’t say it better.

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