by Mark Kurowski
Trayvon Martin, the young man gunned down by the Neighborhood Watch patrol in Florida, is yet another example of something underlying all interactions with our culture. It is the principle of “Thingification,” as espoused by the late theologian James B. Torrance.
Torrance believed that idolatrously, we embrace others as things rather than as people. Trayvon Martin was not a person who had feelings, a purpose or needs. Trayvon Martin was a thing who didn’t have rights, feelings, purpose, needs or a good reason to be walking through a gated community on his way home from the convenience store. Trayvon had no rights because, as his behavior shows, George Zimmerman had no regard for Trayvon’s personhood.
Whether or not George Zimmerman is prosecuted, the incident of Trayvon Martin points to something sick about our society. We do not, nor have we ever, considered others as persons with whom we must have a conversation.
I picked this incident because it seems so obvious that to George Zimmerman that Trayvon was “a black male.” Of course, because in George Zimmerman’s mind, a “black male” is a list of things that need to be watched, stalked, hunted down and killed to protect his gated community, his flat panel tv, his truck, his house and his property.
As a society, we have some serious decisions to make about how we view government, life and society when it comes to what has precedence in the rights debate. What is sure, from a Christian perspective, is that we should consider other human beings human, first and foremost. The older I get, I wonder if we can actually begin to look at humans differently than a thing we can buy at the store; a list of adjectives that are defined from our sense of convenience and personal safety.
“We have become biased against our very personhood. A person who challenges us to relate in mutuality and responsibility is more threatening, makes more claims on our being, than some ‘thing’ we can call our own,” said John F. Kavanaugh in Following Christ in a Consumer Society.
As a Methodist Minister at the turn of this century, I organized a neighborhood watch in my little Lakewood Ave. Community in Gary, IN. We stopped people we did not recognize in our neighborhood. We asked them where they were from, what their business was in our community and then charted everything. Maybe there was a different approach because I lived in an African American community in which one white family lived in a five block radius. That approach? The idea that we should interact with even strangers in our midst.
The striking thing about the events of Trayvon Martin is that he wasn’t even treated as a human being or a person. That would have taken George Zimmerman too much time. Would it take too much time for us to get to know each other? How can we love others until we at least ask them basic questions? Would it have taken George Zimmerman too much time to ask Trayvon Martin, “Hey, son, what are you doing in this neighborhood?”
As Christians, and in particular Catholics, we believe in the “sanctity of life.” That sanctity includes the way we interact with each other. It includes the respect that we have for others in not just how we treat them, but in how we look at other people. We believe that God loves even the worst criminals among us and demands that we love them, too.
If we truly love others, is too much to ask that we begin to see each other as human? I see you as human, Trayvon. I understand, George, that you were scared and thought you needed to do something about the situation. As a fellow human being, I will pray for Trayvon’s soul and for George’s repentance. Until then, I think I need to take stock of how I view others. For the sake of all the young “black males” out there, I encourage you to do the same thing.