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.