The email came Tuesday morning. It was written by a man in Hixson. He had read Monday's column about Trayvon Martin and the fragmentation of America. Call him Rick. I assume he's white.
"While the Trayvon Martin shooting has stirred the black community ... why isn't there more focus on problems in the black community?" he emailed.
In other words, why aren't black Americans taking to the streets over issues within their own community?
• Thousands of blacks will be killed by other blacks this year. Where are the protests within the black community over that?
• Which hurts the black community more: the Trayvon Martin decision or the abandonment of black fathers?
• Where is the uproar over educational under-achievement within the black community?
"I know you write me off as a Tea Party Racist," he finished. "It is not true! But I am aghast at the magnitude of the [Zimmerman] matter, while truly great issues dare not even be discussed."
I thought all morning and into the afternoon about what he said. Took me hours to write a response. In the end, after much writing and deleting and re-writing, it turned out to be just five little words.
"Rick, I think you're right."
The life of Eric Mason (black male killed by gunfire in Chattanooga) is as valuable as the life of Trayvon Martin. So are the lives of Lamunta Williams and Terry Parker Jr. and Edward Glenn (also killed by gunfire).
The lives of black drop-out teenagers whose futures are fading because they can't read are just as tragic as Trayvon, whose future, too, has vanished.
The heartache and cell-block hopelessness within the heart of so many absent black fathers are as profound as the hole within the heart of Mr. Martin, who will never hold or hug his son again.
Rick, of course all of it matters. Of course all of it is heartbreaking and worthy of protest.
Don't you think black folks know this, far more intimately than you or I?
Perhaps they're already marching and protesting, but just not in our neighborhood, or on our news channel, or in our church bulletin.
Perhaps they're already working to restore families and end mass incarceration and stop gang violence, but we're just not part of their work.
Perhaps they're praying with an earnest and broken heart you and I will never hear, but God does.
Perhaps they're doing nothing. Perhaps they're doing everything.
Perhaps they're longing to hear it from white America. From you and me.
Racism is our country's original sin, our oldest crime. The evil -- a most appropriate word -- of slavery suffering that lasted for generations. The Bible speaks of the sins of the fathers being passed onto sons. What about the sins of the slave-owners and Jim Crow overseers? How long are they passed on?
Since the Zimmerman verdict, so many of our conversations have been based around convincing. Whites convincing blacks that no one is holding them back. (I had phone call after phone call yesterday, saying this very thing.) Blacks convincing whites that racism exists, in tenacious ways. Lots of convincing, yet little reconciling.
"So many of the people of color, in particular the people of African descent in my life went to bed on Saturday without a sense of peace," writes Charles Howard, chaplain at the University of Pennsylvania, on Huffington Post. "And I am not sure that some of my non-Black friends understand why."
It is a powerful essay; I wrote another email to Rick, sent him the link, hopeful he sees this early line:
"There is a lack of peace because of the painful reminder that historically black lives are valued less than the lives of others," Howard writes.
So Rick, your anger is good. You are right to be angry when black kids are shot, or fail out of school, or miss their dads. You're right to be angry ... because their lives do indeed matter profoundly, immensely, magnificently.
Black people know this.
And if we really did too, then maybe your question -- why aren't they doing more? -- would be replaced by another one.
How can we do the good work together?
Contact David Cook at firstname.lastname@example.org or 423-757-6329. Follow him on Facebook and Twitter at DavidCookTFP.
David Cook is the award-winning city columnist for the Times Free Press, working in the same building where he began his post-college career as a sportswriter for the Chattanooga Free Press. Cook, who graduated from Red Bank High, holds a master's degree in Peace and Justice Studies from Prescott College and an English degree from the University of Tennessee at Knoxville. For 12 years, he was a teacher at the middle, high school and university ...
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