Ahmaud Arbery's Murder Reinforces the Unfortunate Existence of Racial Profiling
As I have been following the Ahmaud Arbery trial, I came across an uplifting story by CNN's Eliott C. McLaughlin that focused on the football team of Arbery's former high school, southeast Georgia's Brunswick High. The Brunswick High Pirates ended their regular season with an undefeated record, but they took the field this year playing for something much more valuable than a Class 6A state football championship: They truly played for one another as brothers.
McLaughlin detailed how the 2020 shooting death of Arbery, who played outside linebacker for the Pirates during the 2011-12 season, was a rallying point for coach Sean Pender to open up discussions on race and social justice issues affecting not just his Black players but the Brunswick community at large. These talks with the team and a players' sponsored march brought Brunswick residents closer. The march was not a protest but a show of solidarity.
We are in a period now where dialogue on social justice and race cannot be kept out of sports. The high-profile cases of African American men who have died in confrontations with police, and in Arbery's case, three White citizens, have made it vital to have these conservations. For Black athletes on the Pirates' roster, Arbery's killing is a local story that triggers personal emotions. "That could be me" was one of the main reactions in McLaughlin's piece, as players began genuinely sharing their feelings with their peers and coaches during team meetings. Indeed, it could have been one of them when thinking about how Arbery, who was only 25, lost his life. He was out for a jog in the Satilla Shores neighborhood and was chased down by Gregory McMichael, his son Travis McMichael and William "Roddie" Bryan Jr. The three men believed that Arbery was a burglar even though he was unarmed.
Their hasty assumption that Arbery was a criminal has provided a great opportunity for the Pirate players to deeply examine racial profiling. In thinking about some of the recent research related to profiling, a 2019 study conducted by Georgia State University professor Heather M. Kleider-Offutt found that, "(w)hen categorizing people, pervasive stereotypes link Black men to assumed violence and criminality." Kleider-Offutt's study is titled, "Afraid of one afraid of all: When threat associations spread across face-types," and it was published in the Journal of General Psychology. The stereotypes that Kleider-Offutt mentions are Jim Crow-era labels that have lingered in our culture like a recurring rash. It's the reason why my friends who are mothers and fathers of Black high school and college-age sons pray constantly for God's covering over them and continue to give them "the talk," a forthright and serious chat with instructions on how to handle themselves if they are stopped by police.
It is a sad reality that Black men and boys are still feared by many in this country, but it is reassuring that educators like Pirates' coach Pender have the wisdom to know that these racial and cultural issues must be addressed. With Arbery's murder and other tragic police encounters that made national headlines last year, including George Floyd's death and the Kenosha, Wisconsin, shooting of Jacob Blake, Black players on the Pirates' team are not ignorant of what's going on and how it affects them. They probably do not watch cable news channels like CNN regularly, but social media keeps them abreast of what's happening. They need safe spaces to be able to share their thoughts.
The Pirates' squad is diverse, so I'm sure these talks on race have strengthened their locker room and provided White players with a better understanding of what their Black teammates are feeling as closing arguments for Arbery's trial will take place on Monday.
The bond of brotherhood that these young men are forging is strong, and they are learning how to love unconditionally. It reminds me of one of the many teachings of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.: "Love is not emotional bash; it is not empty sentimentalism. It is the active outpouring of one's whole being into the being of another."
Dr. Jessica A. Johnson is a lecturer in the English department at Ohio State University's Lima campus. Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter: @JjSmojc. To find out more about Jessica Johnson and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at www.creators.com.Copyright 2021 Creators Syndicate, Inc.