The Trayvon Martin Case IS About Race, and About All of Us

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For days, I have been trying to write this post. I’ve written it in my head at least a dozen times, and still, I’m not really sure I’ll get it “right.” If it’s even possible to get it right. But I feel compelled to write SOMEthing, so write I will.

I am afraid. Not for my own safety, as George Zimmerman would have us believe he was when he shot an unarmed Trayvon Martin. I am afraid for my children, my nephews and nieces, my friends’ children, my husband, all the other black boys and men in my family and all those who go about their daily lives never thinking any day could be their last.

I am afraid because there will be people who will see my stepsons’ gorgeous brown skin and assume they are gang members because of the way they dress, or talk, or walk — or just are. I am afraid that my daughter will make a mistake, like kids sometimes do, and she will receive a punishment way too harsh for the offense, just because he has brown skin. I am afraid because my husband is a strong black man with a disarming personality, but he wasn’t raised to defer to white people or acquiesce to police who are in the wrong just because. Because where we grew up, we didn’t have to. I’m afraid that one day, his strength will get him killed because someone didn’t appreciate it. Because someone feared it.

I am afraid of the opinions of the people on the other side of the fence, who have stripped away Trayvon’s humanity and say he deserved to be shot for daring to defend himself while black. Who are quick to remind us that he was not a “boy”, but a “man” who never should have “attacked” George Zimmerman. Who say that they would have shot Trayvon too, in the same circumstances. Who call him a nigger and a thug and all manner of other things I’m sure they’d hate to have someone call their dead teenage sons. I am afraid of their opinions because while they are vocal about their feelings online, most of them would never say these things in real life, and their hidden biases are much more dangerous to me and mine that those people who are openly bigoted.

I am afraid of the mindset of the jury of women — most of whom were white and presumably some of whom were mothers — who acquitted “George” because Trayvon shouldn’t have fought back. And one of them said publicly that Zimmerman was justified. I am afraid of the reasons they would so readily accept the word of a man who has pending sexual assault charges, called the police to report suspicious black men dozens of times, and consciously ignored a police dispatcher’s explicit instruction not to follow this boy of whom he claims he was so afraid. I am afraid of the reasons they choose to remember Trayvon for smoking weed and getting into petty scuffles — something MANY teens do and document in photos online — rather than the fact the he saved his father by pulling him from a burning kitchen, his love of horseback riding and his ambitions to become an aviation mechanic or pilot. I fear they didn’t even know those last few facts because they didn’t care to learn. Because they saw Trayvon as “other” and weren’t even aware enough to try to overcome that bias.

I am afraid that the Zimmerman verdict will create more people like George Zimmerman who will unapologetically follow and take the lives of black boys and men, because they have now been told that it is OK to do so.

I am afraid of the laws, in Florida and elsewhere, including my home state of Georgia, that give folks free reign to carry a gun and use it as long as they claim they were “afraid.” I am afraid because I know these laws will be overwhelmingly used AGAINST people like me who have black and brown skin, and therefore are inherently seen as threatening. I am afraid because I know this not because of personal rhetoric or made-up boogeymen, but based on historical evidence that the justice system is stacked against us.

I am afraid because people who say they “don’t see race” really believe that to be true, when we all know that race — and our experiences because of it — tend to be the lenses through which we view the world. Or at least color the lenses through which we view it. I wish that people would stop hoping for a “post-racial” society, and instead learn to celebrate differences or at least view them neutrally, rather than pretending they don’t exist at all. Because I am not a woman who happens to be black. I am a black woman, and among other ways I identify, that is an important part of who I am. Telling me you don’t see that isn’t helping. At all.

I am afraid of the deafening silence of my white friends, who see fit to publicly grieve the death of a Glee star, but say nothing about the murder of an unarmed teen. Who stand up vocally for marriage equality or demand women’s reproductive rights and choice, but say nothing about race or racism. I fear they are silent because they feel like they can be. Because this case doesn’t affect them the way it does me and other people of color. I wish they would say something. Anything. Because this case is about ALL of us, and our inherent biases and prejudices.

I am afraid because so often when a black person mentions racism or white privilege, we are told we are being oversensitive or ridiculous, and that we should just “get over the race thing already.” As if these problems don’t really, truly exist. These people act like the Supreme Court didn’t just invalidate what was perhaps the most important provision in the Voting Rights Act of 1965, forgetting that today, states are still looking to disenfranchise the poor and people of color with voter ID laws and by taking away early voting and redrawing voting district lines. I am afraid because we are past the days of overt bigotry, and it now lives in the hearts and souls of us all, so deep and invasive that most of us either can’t see it, or just flat out refuse to acknowledge it. I am afraid because I know that I am guilty of bias too, but hopeful because I recognize it and I’m working to overcome it. Still though, I am afraid because I know that my biases are a lot less likely to result in someone’s death than the biases of my white peers, because my biases tend to make me cautious rather than make me act invincible.

I am afraid, but that is not all I am. I am also empowered, because for once, it seems, the eyes of the nation are collectively looking in the same direction, whether we are talking about it or not. We are all thinking about Trayvon, even if just in passing. Many of us are outraged, and I’m determined to find ways to turn that outrage into positive change. I’m determined to continue talking about race, because I would be guilty if I remain silent.

So friends. Readers. Can we talk about this? Really talk about it? Can we actually DO something about this, even after the news coverage ceases and the marches end? Because things have got to change. And trust me when I tell you that as helpless as I feel today, I am determined to find a way to act.

In the meantime, read this post for things we can each do, every day, to combat racism, in ourselves and others.

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7 responses
  • luckie July 17, 2013, 4:29 pm

    Jennae, you got it right. Your words so fully sum up the grief many of us feel, across all racial lines. I’ve tried to write away the heaviness, to connect, to talk – via my blog, via a highlighted BlogHer feature. With close to 650 reads, only 40 or so brave souls joined the conversation. I’ve included the comments link below as to spare you the details here. I’ll just say I wish I possessed the salve to heal us all and given the stakes, I don’t think we can afford to stop trying to find it. Peace & ease…

    Luckie
    BlogHer Feature: http://www.blogher.com/turn-moment-movement-im#comments
    luckie´s last blog post ..07.13.13: What Do I Say To My Son Now?

    Reply
    • jennae July 17, 2013, 5:02 pm

      Luckie, thank you for reading and for understanding.

      I made the unfortunate choice to read the comments on your BlogHer post, and I truly wish I hadn’t. It hurts to see people who would so readily dehumanize this boy, and completely forget to include Zimmerman’s past as well. Just gives me a headache…

      Reply
  • Melanie @MelanieMedia July 17, 2013, 6:07 pm

    Very well said and an echo of what I’m feeling.

    Reply
  • Lynn July 18, 2013, 9:47 pm

    Jennae, wonderfully written as always. I feel such pain for Trayvon’s parents. The verdict physically sickened me. I have always struggled with my personal responsibility around race, as well as religion and fear, worked to free myself not of fears, but of any actions I take (or don’t) based on them. I have always TRIED to act in ways that reflect my belief in equality among all people. Sometimes I have failed miserably and sometimes I’ve done OK. Although I have had black friends, I have always known that I have absolutely no understanding of what they face every day,. I think these conversations are so important, but how to get them started? How to keep them going? How to bring people together to discuss the topic without rancor? I’m guessing there are some organizations that lead in this. Do you know of any? GZ is not worth a moment’s more thought, but Trayvon and his family are. What good can come out of this terrible miscarriage of justice is worth thinking about and acting on. Maybe you (and others if you want to include them), could come up with ideas for things anyone can do to further the conversation or take positive action in his name?
    Lynn´s last blog post ..Celebrate Green and make a recycled 4th of July candle holder

    Reply
    • jennae July 19, 2013, 3:16 pm

      Thank you so much for your perspective, Lynn. I think that part of the challenge with having these conversations is that they’d probably be more effective in person, and in groups, as it is easy to dismiss individual experiences as anomalies, rather than being reflective of the bigger picture.

      This is a challenge for me personally, because I am an introvert by nature who gets anxious in social situations, as a general rule. I’m trying to break out of that and come up with ways to have these kinds of conversations first with my neighbors, who are very racially and culturally diverse, and then with the larger community. I also know that I have tendency to want to stick my fingers in my ears or get angry when I hear some of the hate that people spew, and I need to fight against that so I’m able to listen to their perspectives as well.

      I’m definitely working on larger-scale ideas in hopes that we can take these smaller conversations and scale them up. Perhaps online, since so much of the conversation is happening here anyway, and that is how people communicate these days, or offline, where we can more clearly see and feel what others are feeling. I definitely don’t have all the answers, but I’m working on it.

      Reply
  • Lynn July 20, 2013, 12:11 am

    Thanks Jennae. I agree. How to begin, where to begin but where we are? I agree in person is best. Maybe we need meet up groups :) Definitely will be thinking about this. Thanks again for your thoughts and especially for opening up in the personal way that can help others to see and hear what they cannot when we rely on the intellectual.
    Lynn´s last blog post ..Celebrate Green and make a recycled 4th of July candle holder

    Reply
  • Christina August 24, 2013, 11:47 am

    Wow! Your statements ring so true. I have been thinking about this case since the beginning. While many of my friends and family members posted their feeling of disgust on social media sites, I could not find the words to express my true feelings. It was deep sadness for Trayvon Martin and his family, anger that George Zimmerman was acquitted, and above all fear. The fear of what this case means for all of us. Thank you for putting my thoughts into words.

    Christina

    Reply

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