I was sitting at the kitchen table feeding my 9-month old son some yummy homemade apple-pear sauce, as he sat in his high chair. Prior, we had an entertaining food fight with the squash I fed him that he promptly spat on me when he decided he had had enough of the stuff in the green bowl. He started to get restless, voicing his democratic right to reject the food that was painstakingly prepared for him. As he played out his version of the Hunger Games, I recognized this war of food was not going to get me anywhere, so I replaced his squash with apple-pear sauce in his green bowl. As I started to feed him the apple-sauce, which he usually enjoys, he contorted and dodged the spoon with his desert. With much tactical precision, I finally cajoled him to take his desert. While I was feeding him with a mixture relief and agitation, I pondered why he rejected the food he loved so much. Then, it donned on me. He saw the green bowl and jumped to judgment that I was coming back to feed him some more squash. My son was making a snap judgment on the basis of seeing the bowl instead trusting his all-wise dad.
My son is not the only one who make snap judgments, but many well educated adults take posture of my son sitting in his high chair, making critical, unwise judgments and spitting ‘squash’ on the accused. We act in many times as a judge in a high chair.
The simple (and amusing) scenario with my son communicates a very profound truth. When we make snap judgments, we show our immaturity and yes, childishness in not getting essential facts. We act like judges in high chairs. We see the color of the bowl and jump to an erroneous conclusion. The color of the bowl is not a metaphor on race but it includes it. The color of the bowl represents the fact that our perception can be skewed on the content of the situation. Just because we have ‘seen it before’, it does not mean we have seen it before. I think that is one of the lessons that are emerging for us analyzing and critiquing the Trayvon Martin and George Zimmerman deadly altercation. Many of us are not checking our Mr. and Ms. False Perception before they walk in the door with their baggage of lies. The typical outcome is that we clothe ourselves with these lies and maltreat people accordingly to match the wardrobe of the day.
Malformed judgments were not something new. I was reminded when Jesus of Nazareth encountered many judgmental people who jumped on every opportunity to disrespect and condemn flawed people for their errors and/or crimes. Irrespective of circumstances, including racial disputes, Jesus spoke out and warned judgmental people need to temper their attitude even if they had “all the facts.” They must not set themselves up as a judge but a friend of humanity. Was Jesus overlooking crime or injustice? No! We ought to pursue justice, not as avengers – but as peacemakers as He would exhort. This role viewed and still views justice as a means to bring peace, as best possible, to all parties, which includes victim and victimizer. (The victim’s family stands in the place of the victim if they are deceased.)
It appears that peacemaking seems to be a far cry to the commentaries (and commentators) that we hear and see on the various forms of media. Why? Because we have the tendency to “call it the way it is” based on our own opinions absent facts. Who does not want to play the role of Judge Judy or Joe Brown? In all honesty, it is fun capitalizing on human frailty in others and exercising it in ourselves.
So how do we avoid judging or drawing poor conclusions about others? I acknowledge that it is hard but if I will offer an acronym to help us in this matter. The acronym is J.U.D.G.E. Something that I wish Piers Morgan and Touré were able to consider in averting the messy verbal tussle on air via Piers Morgan Tonight.1
J – Jump back. Whenever we hear a case, we should be aware that our tendency is to form an opinion as a reflex. We should restrain ourselves from doing so and take a mental jump back from false conclusions. This is the first and critical step. If this is not done, there is no way that we will make it to the last of letter/step in J.U.D.G.E. dealing with the right behavior.
U – Understand. This implies searching for the facts and listening with an open mind. Many people were calling Mr. Zimmerman a racist, which may not be so. One can demonstrate racist behavior or prejudice but does not mean one’s a racist. We should endeavor to understand the situation as completely as possible.
D – Deliberate. A sincere intent to reason and reflect on the facts to discover truth is crucial. This reasoning cannot be done in a vacuum but through informed dialogue and reading credible sources. As we reason through the facts and arrive at cul-de-sac in our thinking, we can let our biases fill in the gaps or become the bridge toward an end, which is only a dead end. Indeed, our biases are usually a ‘Bridge to Nowhere.’
G – Guard against. This reminds us that our opinions are not gospel and subject to change. Also, we recognize that we cannot demean people who are clearly in the wrong. We must recognize hatred, bitterness, and malice seeps out and shows the world our toxicity and ugliness, which ‘make-up’ cannot cover. We must guard against the attitude of condemnation for no one wins.
E – Express respectfully. After all the inner wrestling to determine wheat from chaff, truth from fiction, we are communicating our conclusions in a fair and courteous manner especially to those who disagree with our views. We do this always with a posture of a student who is willing to still listen and learn at the feet of truth. We desire to express our best side and not the ugly within. Our behavior leads to justice and peace as the transcendent goal.
Saying all this, am I negating the possibility of discrimination or everyday racism? Nope, it was clear listening to the 911 tape of Mr. Zimmerman speaking that bias was present. Am I denying there was a possibility institutional or organizational racism? Nope, it was clear that the Sanford Police force has a track record for unjust treatment of Black offenders compared to other races. Am I tempted to label and malign George Zimmerman as such a vile human being? Yep, the urge is there. However, I was reminded that what goes around comes around. Or as Jesus would put it, “For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.” 2 Thus, I am compelled to restrain my rabid tongue and malignant attitude toward him as best as I can for the Lord’s sake.
There may be some who feel that I am not supporting Trayvon Martin. I hope my readers are not ‘jumping’ to that conclusion. Like many other Black men, I have experienced racial profiling. Saying that, if we are going to be a judge, let us J.U.D.G.E. properly and accurately, unlike my baby boy. We can at least advance the cause for social change in a meaningful and open way – without the high chair.
~ Denley W. McIntosh
- Piers Morgan & Toure Debate – http://www.opposingviews.com/i/society/headlines/video-piers-morgan-toure-argue-trayvon-martin-killing
- Gospel of St. Matthew 7:2