McSweeney’s, Geraldo, and Trayvon

I’ve received letters from all over the world on my piece of rhetoric (otherwise known as a rant) in McSweeney’s about the misuse of the word “closure.” Some complimented my literary craft (which is nice), some came from people in the bereavement field, some from parents.   I’ll post one or two of these letters soon; meanwhile here’s the link:

And speaking of “closure,” so far I haven’t heard anyone mention it in relation to the terrible death in Florida of Trayvon Martin, though no doubt some misguided soul will do so in the coming days.  Over the weekend, however, I heard Geraldo Rivera say, “the hoodie is as much responsible for Trayvon Martin’s death as Zimmerman is.”  Wow.  Similar to the “he raped her because she was dressed provocatively” defense, the argument may be a new low in an already bottom-scraping America, when someone with actual access to airwaves can get away with making an excuse like that for what really does appear to be a murder of a beautiful, unarmed seventeen year old boy walking down the street carrying some Skittles and an iced tea by an armed neighborhood watch “volunteer.”  What happened for the idea of “freedom” these same people are always crowing about? Would that be freedom for everyone except those who want to wear hoodies?

According to the LA TIMES (and many other news sources): George Zimmerman, whose fatal shooting of an unarmed teenager has sparked nationwide protests over alleged racial profiling, had thought the entire incident would “blow over,” a friend said Sunday. The story goes on to make the claim that Joe Oliver, a ten year friend of Zimmerman, make the claim that he had never seen any indication Zimmerman, 28,  is racist.  Now Zimmerman is hiding amid death threats and demands for his arrest.  I wouldn’t support death threats for anyone, but demands for his arrest? Absolutely.

“Walking while black” is a much, much better explanation for this outrageous act by Zimmerman, no matter what his friend says, and how sad for the loving parents of all the young black children in American, that they still, constantly have to worry about their children in a country that continues to be a terribly racist place, even WITH a black President.  I have sat with bereaved parents black and white; their tears and pain are exactly the same.

And here’s another important point in this matter.  It’s as difficult to even know what’s in people’s hearts, let alone to legislate what should be in their hearts.  It’s for a court to determine whether this guy is or isn’t racist, and this is or isn’t a bias crime, and yet, unbelievably, because of the so called stand-your-ground law, which took effect in Florida in 2005, police could not arrest Zimmerman.  Shame.  Shame.

Well,  we DO know this.  Research has shown that access to the means to commit deadly violence is the best possible predictor of deadly violence.  For example, if you have a gun in the house, it’s more likely that someone (usually NOT an intruder) will be shot and killed, or even that someone will commit suicide successfully.  In view of this and the proliferation of senseless shootings in this country, it seems to me that the gun lobby has become far, far too powerful, scary powerful, and that the narcissistic, gun-crazed, irresponsible climate it has promoted and created and nurtured in the last thirty years is as much responsible for the shooting of this young boy as anything.  How else can you explain the passage of a law like the stand your ground law,  which permits people to use deadly force not only inside the home but on the street if they feel threatened?  People feel threatened by all kinds of things, real and imagined.  If you put a gun in every hand, as some in the gun lobby are pushing for, there will be more blood and death than there would be if you didn’t. A Priori. Why do we keep passing legislation that makes it more likely, rather than less, that this kind of thing will happen?

What is wrong in America?

6 thoughts on “McSweeney’s, Geraldo, and Trayvon

  1. “I constantly find myself shocked by this culture’s ignorance about grief.”

    Maybe I’m misinterpreting this or splitting hairs, but I don’t agree with that statement. It would be safer to say that this culture is extremely ignorant about OTHER PEOPLE’S grief. Everyone deals with grief, and just because some random gal on the radio deals with it differently than you do and feels the need to shove that process onto your life doesn’t make her ignorant about grief. It makes her ignorant about YOUR grief and kind of a asshole. Madam Radio Lady lives in this world, so she has an intimate knowledge of grief, just like everyone else.

    • Hi Erik,
      Thanks so much for writing. Yes, I suppose what you’ve said is to some degree true, which doesn’t negate the fact that you may also be splitting hairs. All people, everywhere, are eventually forced to deal with their own losses and grief at some point in their lives, since loss accompanies each of us. I certainly agree that people in this culture are ignorant about OTHER PEOPLE’S grief. And how a person deals with grief is mediated by a variety of factors, including who died, the nature of the relationship, the degree of ambivalence in the relationship, how the person died, how preventable the death was, assumptions about the world (such as, for example, the idea that children are supposed to die before parents), how stable the bereaved person was before the death, and many other factors. Actually, although I’ve never heard a bereaved parent use the word “closure,” I have heard a few bereaved people with other losses use it, perhaps because they’ve heard so many others use it. I certainly recognize that for some people to understand it this way may help them emotionally, and if so, that’s fine, of course. And I recognize that some bereaved people may also feel comforted by such sentiments as “God must have wanted him,” or “May God turn their grief into joy.” I had one women write to me to quote the scriptural basis of these sentiments, and in her letter actually perpetuated her idea that if I would just accept Jesus I would no longer feel any pain from the loss of my son. I understand that SHE may find this comforting in her own losses, or think she would, but that doesn’t mean that she shouldn’t be educated about the idea that such a sentiment offends me and might offend many other bereaved people. (She wrote to me personally, but I may post that next.)

      I just think we should be very very careful about what we say as would-be comforters. For one thing, for all the differences in individual grief, there are also many commonalities. One of them is that grievers are very vulnerable to the reactions of others. What might roll off the back at another time can be deeply offensive. And I have talked to hundreds of bereaved parents who almost universally are offended by the very idea of getting “closure” on such a loss.

      In no way would I call Radio Lady an asshole. Unlike someone like Ann Coulter, who doesn’t actually appear to be well meaning, Radio Lady is well meaning. However, she isn’t just a random person making a misguided statement about grief, she’s someone with access to the airwaves, who is unwittingly and misguidedly transmitting information she’s heard other misguided people say in the culture, information that perpetuates the unhelpful and even offensive belief that getting “closure” is a universally accepted way of thinking about grief, and/or a goal the bereaved have or should have. THAT’s the cultural ignorance.

  2. Wonderfully written Fran. I found myself saying yes…yes..yes. In my personal life and professional life working with grieving individuals, I have never met anyone that the word closure was not a hot button for. This is something I wrote after hearing too many people share how hurt they’d been by the question; “Have you found closure?”. I thought I’d share it with you. Blessings, Deb Kosmer


    The word
    ridiculous question
    by well-meaning
    ignorant people
    want well defined
    so that they can
    walk away
    and not look back.

    Deb Kosmer

  3. Powerful, beautifully crafted rhetoric. I’ve been a mental health
    counselor for many. many years, and worked as a Hospice counselor for
    4 of those, and I’m always blown away by how much people are freaked
    out by death and uncomfortable with grief. Your remarks about
    misguided platitudes were right on, but I liked most your idea about
    incorporating losses and looking for meaning in them.

    Thank you for your wonderful letter! Don

  4. Thanks, Don. Nice of you to seek me out, since McSweeney’s doesn’t even give you a link to your blog. But I do LOVE McSweeney’s, which is a literary treasure.

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