Admission: I am a privileged white male, who grew up as the son of a lawyer, and who currently lives in one of the wealthiest counties in tax-friendly, conservative Texas. I have freely worn a hoodie and walked around on streets since my youth under no perceived profiling stares (racial or otherwise). My testimony could be featured on the buzzing scroll of We Are Not Trayvon Martin.
I want to make sure to lead with this admission. Because I want to make a suggestion to Americans about how we construct and conduct conversations about race in America. My burden for suggestion comes from my work as a pastor who must help lead my congregation and friends to a place of still waters and green pastures whenever racial division rears its ugly head in popular culture. Like this past Saturday night.
So here is my suggestion. Why not let positive portraits of racial interaction establish the domain of discourse about race in America? Why not let stories about black folk helping hispanic folk, or white folk helping black folk stir the conversation? What if we let Temar Boggs become the focal point of rallies, public awareness, and media storms?
You’ve read about Temar Boggs right? He is the Pennsylvania teenager who took to his bicycle with his friend Carlos Garcia and together chased down a kidnapper driving a vehicle in order to rescue 5-year-old Jocelyn Rojas. Allegedly, when this kidnapping suspect, a grown man, saw the two boys riding their bikes, he feared for his own life and — get this — let his victim out of the vehicle. She ran into Temar’s arms in a heroic scene of rescue and said, “I need my mommy.”
One more fact. Temar Boggs is black (pictured above).
So question. Why don’t we allow this story to prompt a conversation about race in America? Is it because we only associate negative racial attitudes with the conversations worth having in public? Okay, fair enough. After all, there doesn’t appear to be any ground to cover in the story of Boggs. Or is there?
What if I told you that the alleged kidnapper is described as being “white?”
Allow me to pause on that note and bring in another angle . . .
Here is one of my pastoral concerns with how we have constructed and conducted the conversation concerning race and Trayvon. The line of logic reads as such:
- George Zimmerman is white/hispanic.
- Trayvon Martin is black.
- Zimmerman suspects Martin of being a threat.
- Martin is aware of being profiled by Zimmerman and takes issue.
- A scuffle occurs.
- Martin is killed at the hands of Zimmerman, who claims self defense.
But somehow, when presented with this progression of facts, many of us (myself included) immediately leap over to raising this counterfactual hypothetical scenario in order to bring up the question of race in America.
- But, what if Trayvon had been white and Zimmerman black?
Look what just happened in that leap of logic. And look at what that collective leap of logic reveals about our disposition to this issue of race in America. And look at the kind of conversation that question frames for readers? It allows something evil and tragic to shape a conversation about race. And thus, the conversation about race gets associated with evil and not good. It puts blacks in the position of disadvantage and whites in the position of advantage. And I am not even trying to suggest that such a scenario is abnormal or not worth discussing.
But here is what I am suggesting. We have plenty of conversations about the disadvantages of black America and the privileges of white America. Why limit yourself to only promoting that conversation again when we have so few (it seems) conversations about black heroes? Need an example? How many times have you heard of a heroic black family rescuing a white or hispanic or asian orphan through the mercy of adoption? It happens for sure, but these kinds of stories don’t get brought to our public attention concerning race and culture.
Trayvon deserves to be discussed. But why not complement Trayvon’s story with a conversation that is framed by the story of Temar Boggs? Look at the flow of logic:
- A kidnapper is white.
- Temar Boggs is black.
- Kidnapper victimizes a young girl.
- Temar Boggs hears about it and heroically and valiantly acts as a man, even as a teenager, taking the responsibility of being the protector for this girl he barely knows.
- He tracks down a grown white man who is in a car. Boggs, meanwhile, is peddling on a bike.
- He confronts the white man.
Now let me pause here. Let’s now raise the counterfactual question.
- What if the kidnapper had acted as Zimmerman and shot Temar Boggs?
After all, the kidnapper felt threatened and was acting in self defense. Temar Boggs was admittedly pursuing the kidnapper with an intent to confront him. And as rapper Tripp Lee, Matthew Simmermon-Gomes, and scores of other black men have attested, it is fair to reason that Temar Boggs has grown up under the cloud of racial profiling. He had plenty of opportunity to let this profiling motivate his pursuit.
What would that scenario have looked like? Would this incident have raised national attention? Would the court case have turned out in a similar verdict? Pennsylvania has a similar Stand Your Ground law. Or does the kidnapping angle sway the verdict? Would Al Sharpton have organized a series of protests? Would Ted Nugent have rattled off a column on concealed handgun rights?
These are great questions. But the most important question is this: Why aren’t we letting Temar Boggs facilitate a conversation on race and fairness?
- Is it because Temar is alive and we need a dead person to become the symbol for a issue debate?
- Is it because he performed this heroic act in a blue state instead of a state up for grabs?
- It is because Trayvon Martin happened first and therefore has a better lead time for media outlets?
- Is it because we still don’t have the identity of the kidnapper?
Or, is it because there is an inherent need to paint certain races as victims and certain races as oppressors? Is it because that narrative is easier to spin since it has soooooooooo much cultural history (And it does). Or is something else holding us back. I think something is. I think the complementary narrative that everyday black heroes are among us and deserve to be the framing point for current conversations about race and culture.
Consider it a suggestion, officially lodged towards whomever gets to promote these kinds of conversations in public forums. I want to suggest that we take some time to let the Fultons and Martins grieve in private. I want to suggest that we pause on staging rallies about the injustice of the Florida law. Instead, I want to suggest that we fill up the next news cycle by taking up the much more difficult, but ultimately more visionary task of lifting up this model of heroism in the life of Temar Boggs.
- Let’s run that kid through the media car wash cycle. Get him on MSNBC, Fox News, and ESPN. And make sure he has an awesome agent who only gets 1% on the back end.
- I am calling for an Ivy League school, or even my beloved Baylor University, to guarantee him a full ride plus stipend, plus job when he graduates.
- Let’s establish a Temar Boggs Day as a national holiday.
- Let’s write up a Temar Boggs law that honors deeds of heroism.
- Let’s change the name of the Washington Redskins to the Washington Temars (Too soon? Too far?).
You get my point. Whatever we do, can we try letting something like Temar Boggs establish the conversation about race in America? At worst, Temar’s story would help us all to pause and reconsider our preconceived notions of Trayvon. And that would be something!