You’ve Got to Be Carefully Taught

Jackie Summers, along with the rest of The Good Men Project, rallies against “a new high water mark for racism”

This morning, Lisa Hickey forwarded me an email from, from the parents of Trayvon Martin. It is an impassioned plea to bring the killer of their child to justice.

Of course, I’d already seen this. I’ve been watching everything related to this case carefully. As a black man in my 40s, I understand why this is resonating so deeply with many. This isn’t some fresh new hell; it’s torn open old wounds most would prefer to believe have healed.

The concept that you are suspicious.
The concept that you have to justify where you are and what you’re doing.
The concept that there are people who are so afraid of you, they feel they’re protecting themselves and others, by killing you, even if you’re unarmed.
The concept that those charged with law can show up, knowing exactly what happened, and choose not to uphold it.
The concept that it requires a national outrage to incite justice.
The concept that there are those who would vociferously defend the murderer out of one corner of their mouths, and accuse the murdered from the other.

For no other reason than the color of your skin.

A child was killed. His parents are inconsolable. And yet, if people of color express the rage of righteous indignation, this somehow makes them more threatening. They need to remain the height of civility, in the face of civil injustice, lest they be accused of deserving what they got.

We know he was targeted.
We know racial epithets were used on the 911 call.
We know his killer ignored police requests to leave well enough alone.
We know he was not the aggressor.
We know the neighbors heard a child screaming, begging for his life.

Just before he was shot in the chest.

And we know, that knowing all of this, the police arrived on the scene with the intention of not only not arresting the killer, but covering it up. This is why no forensic investigator was sent to the crime scene, why instead of specific questions were asked instead of taking statements, why the 911 calls were not immediately released, why no toxicology report was requested on the killer, and why they attempted to hide the fact that he was talking on his cell phone while Zimmerman pursued him.

We also know sheriff Lee has been on his job less than a year. He took over after the previous chief was forced out following an outcry over the beating of a black man in downtown Sanford by a white man who is a police officer’s son. The police did not arrest the man, even though the beating was captured on video.

This isn’t an isolated incident. It’s the result of something systemic. This is a cancer in the lymphatic system of our country, manifesting as a malignant tumor. This is the deep sickness we’d rather pretend doesn’t exist, because the ugliness of our a history we’d rather not discuss is rearing its ugly head. This is knowing that no matter how far we’d like to believe we’ve come, precious little has changed.

And if there’s any doubt to this, make yourself read some of the reactions:


My last girlfriend was Austrian. Honey-wheat hair and ice-blue eyes. I know she loved me, but one of the reasons we eventually broke up was: she wasn’t sure she could handle the pressure of raising an interracial child. And now, for the first time, I think I understand. You could do everything in your power to raise a child with love and affection and attention. You could educate your child, teach them the highest ethics and morals. You could protect them, to the furthest extent of your ability.

But you send that child out into the world, and he’s just another nigger.


The Good Men Project is a tremendous undertaking, both from a moral and fiscal point of view. If you want to know why so many people–including myself–contribute their time, their energy, their creativity to this conversation, you have to know a bit more about its publisher, Lisa Hickey.

Exactly one week before The Good Men Project launched, the four principal players were sitting in Tom Matlack’s office. “Will the site be done on time?” we wondered? “Do we have enough content?” “Is it good enough?” and the inevitable, “How the heck do you spark a national conversation about what it means to be a good man?”

A volunteer editor was asking about GMP’s mission, what I wanted to accomplish. “Well, there’s a ton of stuff.” I said, rattling off the list of everything from changing stereotypes about men to just telling great stories.

“Oh, and also on that list”, Lisa said. “I want to solve the problem of racism.”

The editors eyes bore straight into me as he said unblinkingly, “How the fuck are YOU going to solve the problem of racism?”

“I haven’t a clue.” I said. “I only know that if we’re starting something called The Good Men Project, I’m damn well going to try.”

It is for this reason–among many others–that Tom Matlack and Lisa Hickey have earned my trust, my loyalty, my friendship. Lisa Hickey is ambitious enough to want to solve racism. This is as laughable as it is laudable. At the end of the day, the space where this conversation happens is more than a bastion for intellectual masturbation. There’s a genuine effort behind every story here to enact change, to define what is good and move towards it, while defining by default what is bad, and moving away.

It means keeping the foxes out of the henhouse, no matter how silky smooth their rhetoric is.


What Lisa doesn’t know is: I know how to solve racism. I know how to solve homophobia, misogyny and misandry for that matter. I think we all know. The way you solve social ills is: stop teaching them. Accept the right of those who currently clutch desperately onto their beliefs as inalienable, and know they are lost to your cause. No dazzling display of intellect or passionate entreaty will sway the likes of the Zimmermans and Lees of the world, or their defenders. They are who they are, and it may be asking too much of them to change. The only way to kill racism is to allow racists to die off.

Teach the teachable. Show those who are bringing children into the world why it’s important to teach equality for all, and show them how. Plant seeds of justice in our progeny that will grow to someday provide shade for all. As the song says, you’ve got to be carefully taught.

Be the Change You Want to See

© Jackie Summers 2012


About Jackie Summers

Jackie Summers is an author and entrepreneur. His blog F*cking in Brooklyn chronicles his quest to become a person worthy of love. His company, Jack From Brooklyn, Inc. houses his creative and entrepreneurial enterprises. Follow him on Twitter @jackfrombkln and friend him on Facebook


  1. A great post. Thank you for writing it. And as one of the earliest contributors to the GMP, I know Lisa and I love this story about her. It does not surprise me. She is fabulous. What does surprise me, though I know it shouldn’t, is how low we can go in our hatred in this country. This story sickens and saddens me – especially as the mother of a teenage boy. Thank you for continuing to write about this simply dreadful crime.

  2. Krishnabrodhi says:

    I absolutely love your point of view for the solution of racism. When I was about 13 years of age I was sitting on the porch of a friend’s house having a talk with his uncle. (Older white gentleman) He was having a bit of a rant about a friend of mine who was a bit of a hellion. (also black like me) In the midst of this rant he dropped the n-bomb. He immediately stopped… apologized.. and then looked at me very quizzically. He then said.. “Ya know.. you’re not like black… you’re cool.”

    Being 13 I had no context to parse what he meant by that. I wasn’t sure if I was being complimented or insulted. It wasn’t until many years later that I got enough experience to understand his point of view. In this world if you grow up in a racist home, in a racist neighborhood, in a racist city, and in a racist state… chances are pretty damn good you will become a racist just as easily as you became a speaker of the english language. Marry that with a dominating media portrayal of black people that reinforce the lessons you have learned and you end up having your definition of black people handed to you. That is what happened to my friend’s uncle. And that is why I through him off because I ran against his handed down definitions of people of my color. So much so it baffled him that I could actually be black.

    So I agree that the point of change is not going to be automatically judging people that have had these ideas handed to them as villains and meeting them with anger but with seeing them as victims that are victims of ill wrong information who are in turn creating more victims of that information. The best way is to make available new information to the contrary and behave in a way that gives them the chance to see that that new information may be true.

    Bravo on a wonderful and well written article. And please pardon the run on sentences. I think in run on sentences so that’s how I write 😛

  3. Tom Brechlin says:

    Jackie, it’s sad that racism still exists. I grew up in a time where Martin Luther King was often on TV and I often quote him in my work with the kids that I work with. Many of them struggle with believing that as an older (not old yet) white man, how I’m not racist. They struggle with understanding why I would even bother.

    I thank my dad for who I am today and that’s not because he was a great dad but because of the decision he made for me when I was going into high school. Living in the inner city of Chicago, we became the minority race. Where my brothers went to prep schools in Chicago, my fathers choice for me was St. Bedes (high school/seminary in Paru Illinois) or Farragut HS in Lawndale are of Chicago which is a racially charged, gang ridden neighborhood. I didn’t want to go to Farragut but I did.

    Those were the best four years in my adolescents. I truly became color blind. Although my family was far from racist, racial differences still existed. We lived a short distance away from the riot torn area in Chicago and could see the red sky from the burning buildings from our front porch.

    It’s funny, I was beat up in my Freshman year …. Not because I was white, the students thought I was a teacher in that me and two other teachers were attacked that day. That’s not to say that it was a good thing but it’s funny why I was targeted. By my Senior year, my name in school was the “Great White Hope”

    I keep my year book at work and when the kids see where I grew up, they seem to have a better respect for me and tend to believe that I am sincere. My favorite picture in the year book is the one of the mixed choir where smack dab in the middle of the choir is this tall white guy.

    I wish people could see how great life is without racial boundaries. So many great cultures that people are missing out on. I married a Mexican, my best man is black. One of my closest friends is black and contrary to some having minority friends as being trendy, these are true friends. I don’t have any room in my life for racists and believe me when I tell you, I can smell a racist a mile away.

    Good work Jackie … thank you

  4. I’ve been saying for 6+ years (my son’s lifetime) that diversity is not just about skin color. I think the solution that is a step beyond what you’ve described is for us all to join together. Stand up and say what it is about you, something that you are, that you could be hated for. I think everyone has something, but maybe it’s not you personally. For me it is my son and his Down syndrome. True, Black men are looked at with fear and that is wrong. True, my son is looked through as if he is not there and that is wrong. Together we are stronger and have more numbers than we do if each little group fights this battle on their own. I join groups like Human Rights Campaign not because I have any family or friends that are LGBT, but because if they can take away rights from any group they can take them away from those with intellectual disabilities too. I will stand next to anyone who is fighting for their civil rights, but I will not hesitate to say that my son is the reason. It’s not just what is right, but it’s also because I am his voice. If I get hit by a bus tomorrow this is the culture and community he will be in. Will you stand by him as I stand by you? I pray so. Separately we are small groups and can be written off as the lunatic fringe. Together we are the majority and we can right these wrongs. I teach my children that people are people and their differences are to be treasured, not just tolerated, and certainly not ignored or demeaned. Please, when you teach your children this lesson don’t forget that there are people out there in your community right now that you may not even see, but they are there and they need their differences to be honored too.

  5. “No dazzling display of intellect or passionate entreaty will sway the likes of the Zimmermans and Lees of the world, or their defenders.”

    How would you know unless you try? For the most part I haven’t seen any intellectual case made against racism EVER anywhere. This is true despite the fact that I have been exposed to numerous anti-racism messages throughout school and in the media. The primary teachng mode has been moralistic……you should not be a racist because its bad or evil. Discrimination is wrong. But maybe I shouldn’t be surprised. In my lifetime I have rarely been exposed to the intellectual case for anything whatsoever. Mostly it just seems like people expect me to believe things that everyone else does. When I don’t or I become demanding its almost as if I am viewed as acting in bad faith. Like I am asking too much. But I don’t think I am asking too much.

    And there is plenty of evidence which discredits racism but no one ever even bothers to make the argument. I don’t like it.

    • Steve Locke says:

      Perhaps you could make an intellectual case FOR racism?

    • Transhuman says:

      Race is a social construct, it only exists because we think it exists. Demonstrably, all humans are of the same species regardless of what race we think they are, the proof is in the ability to reproduce across all racial groups. As far as we know at the moment, if you want to go back far enough in history, we are all Africans. Is it logical to hate on the basis of eye colour? If not, then why on the basis of skin colour?

      This is my case against racism. It is a wasteful hate, there are so many other things in the world we could put our energies into.

  6. John Sctoll says:

    And remember as we are on this path to make the world better, lets not let one type of hate be replaced with another type of hate as a solution

  7. jackie… this is an incredibly powerful, painful, and beautiful piece. thank you so much. i will be spreading this far and wide. i usually include a quote when i post an article like this, but i couldn’t choose… it’s all too important. i completely agree about the value of teaching those willing and able to be taught. many forget how quickly things can change when motivated people organize and work together for a such a vital cause. the more we work together and support each other in the process (like all the good people here at the Good Men Project) the more energy and strength we have to bring to the fight, which is desperately needed at such painful and frustrating times like these. your writing always does that for me. please keep sharing.

  8. spidaman3 says:

    Jackie, as much as I love your piece here (and wish to see some justice). I just can’t believe that there is some way to defeat racism. It’s been with us well forever and the roots of it are pretty natural. Jealousy, dishonesty, partiality, pride, ignorance, peer pressure, impatience, etc. will always exist. The racists will die, but they will be easily replaced as well.

  9. In the UK we have a law which allows anyone to force the police to investigate a crime, and arrest suspects, provided that they can convince magistrate that there is a suspect and reasonable evidence.

    It is really useful when the police don’t want to get involved, such as in race issues, and honour killings

    It sounds like America could use this law.

  10. So many hearts have broken this week…but you are so right…we have to teach the importance of equality to our children…my 11 yo son is half-Asian, whose best friends are E. (who is half-African-American) and J. (Hispanic)….for all of their sakes, I would want them to feel safe walking down the street without having guns pointed at them for the crime of carrying an iced tea and a cellphone…There has to be a better world for them….

  11. The Wet One says:

    I know another way to solve the problem of racism but you probably won’t like it. I think it will also be far far far more effective that your prescription for the ills. The solution may yet be imposed, but time shall tell. Until then, I guess we’ll struggle along with lesser solutions.

    It’s days like this (a whole week in fact), that I’m glad I’m not American. It’s not perfect up where I am, but even the conservatives in my country (akin to your Fox News viewers and Rush Limbaughs) find this case outrageous. My great grandad made a sound decision 100 years ago when he left the U.S.A. I thank him many days (though I’ve never met him) for the better life he bestowed upon me by that simple decision.

    The Wet One

  12. Jackie. You are absolutely right.
    We, all of us, know how to do this. The question is more, will we? Will we teach love, fierce compassion, patience, gentleness, questioning, and peace or will we teach fear, hatred, anger, and the lust of war?
    There is hate in the world. Hate and anger and fear are powerful emotions. They feel good. They appear to give strength.
    But they cause, like an addiction, a need for more of that energy not less.
    We all do know how to do this. We have to do this. And I think we will do this.
    Thank you for this piece.

    • Julie, I think the lesson we teach is both in word and deed. Hate exists, it isn’t leaving us anytime soon. But if we must hate, let’s have better reasons than misogyny, homophobia and racism. Hate anyone you like, but make sure it’s personal.

      Love’s far more powerful, far stronger: this is the message we must teach the teachers.


  13. Jeffery Heil says:

    I want to thank you for taking the time to write about racism (again) when it appears that we as a society are currently incapable of real transcendence when it comes to the issue. As an educator, I refuse to let issue like racism, homophobia, and misogyny remain inaudible in the classroom. You need to know that you inspire me to bring this cacophony to the forefront of every class I teach (teaching future teachers).
    As a white man in my 40s, I can honestly say that I spend the better part of my first 30 years cloaked in darkness in regards to my privilege. Colorblindness is a convenient excuse that fosters not only inactivity, but renders all students ill-equipped to deal with racism in the real world. The grand irony in the current issue is that it is white America who needs to remove their collective hood to truly see our society for what it is. My heart hurts for the family of Trayvon Martin.

    • Jeffrey, what you’re doing is so much more important than my ramblings. Please, teach the children well, and teach them to teach others. The seeds you plant will grow into oaks, and while we may never enjoy their shade, we will know we nurtured the roots.


    • Joanna Schroeder says:

      Jeffrey, thanks so much for this comment… I think that you’re a living example of what we all need to be doing. Finding a way to make change, not just complain about the problem. You are opening minds, and you’ve opened your own. Inspiring.

  14. Yes some people can be shown the error of their ways when it comes to -isms but some are just so set in their ways that they simply will not change. For those folks the only answer I can come up with is to let them just die, take their -isms with them, and work on making sure no one carries them on.

    • Danny I am willing to embrace any heart that embraces change, but willing to respect people’s beliefs differ from my own. I certainly hope we are on a path to a universal definition of goodness, where the principle of equality exists not only in theory but in practice, for all.


      • Agreed. Those who are willing to embrace change can probably saved and its worth saving them. And I have no problem with those whose beliefs are different but don’t try to act on them or try to make them policy.

        I would have no problem with a person who refuses to date outside their race and imposes that on themselves. I do have a problem with that same person if they start trying to push for laws that limit/ban interracial marriage.

        As for embracing change I’m all for a person that wants to change being given a chance to change. Even after what he has done if Zimmerman were to truly change I say give him a chance. But since he was willing to escalate from hatred to murder I doubt that he wants to change and if that is the case he needs to just be allowed to live out his life in a way where he will have no change of passing on his ways to the future generation.

  15. Joanna Schroeder says:


    I just cried at this. About sending a child into a world full of hate.

    My heart is broken. This must change.

    • The world isn’t full of hate Joanna; you’re in the world.


      • Joanna Schroeder says:


      • I like the article, but using the Martin case in support of the ideal weakened your argument IMO. Very few have taken the time to understand the facts of the case, including the media that reported on it. Even mentioning Martin’s parents as some kind of heroes will automatically shut down half the viewers, especially when so many of your bulletpoints are factually incorrect.

        Good message, really bad example.


  1. […] Jackie Summers suggests we "teach the teachable" when it comes to equality.  […]

  2. […] Lisa Hickey is on record as saying she’d like to “solve racism.” A nobler sentiment you’d be hard pressed to find, but exactly how does one do this? What if racism, like most social ills, isn’t an equation that can solve for zero? While our progress as an ethical society can be argued for progress or regress, there is (at least) one place we can look historically and claim advancement: modern medicine. Whereas cases of polio and measles once decimated entire populations, we can unequivocally declare significant progress in curbing the spread of infectious disease. […]

  3. […] reminded of Jackie Summers piece, You’ve Got To Be Carefully Taught, which was written in reaction to the Trayvon Martin […]

  4. […] reminded of Jackie Summers piece, You’ve Got To Be Carefully Taught, which was written in reaction to the Trayvon Martin […]

  5. […] “You’ve Got to Be Carefully Taught” by Jackie Summers at The Good Men Project […]

  6. […] children, carrying candy in a suburb, are shot for walking down the street while black. As Jackie Summers writes, “This isn’t some fresh new hell; it’s torn open old wounds most would prefer to believe have […]

  7. […] children, carrying candy in a suburb, are shot for walking down the street while black. As Jackie Summers writes, “This isn’t some fresh new hell; it’s torn open old wounds most would prefer to believe […]

  8. […] innocent children, carrying candy in a suburb, are shot for walking down the street while black. As Jackie Summers writes, “This isn’t some fresh new hell; it’s torn open old wounds most would prefer to believe have […]

  9. […] They say all these things while innocent children, carrying candy in a suburb, are shot for walking down the street while black. As Jackie Summers writes, […]

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