The murder of Trayvon Martin has been a galvanizing force behind which communities of color and their allies can rally. Communities of color, who experience the pain inflicted by prejudice and racism on a daily basis, are demanding justice for what they feel to be a murder caused and permitted by an inherently racist and unjust system. To many, the acquittal of George Zimmerman solidified the fear that communities of color have always felt; that the lives of people of color are of little value to white society.
“In spite of what was said in court, what verdict has been reached, or how hopeless we feel, Trayvon did NOT die in vain. A mother should never have to bury her son. However, his death will serve as the catalyst of a new movement where the struggle for justice will prevail.” – BYP100, as a response to Zimmerman’s Acquittal
In the face of this unity and demand for justice, some white folks seek to contest the idea that Trayvon’s murder had anything at all to do with race. Instead of standing alongside their brothers and sisters of color to demand an address of grievances, some white folks (and to a far lesser extent some people of color) point to the fact that George Zimmerman is non-white as evidence that his murder of Martin was not racially motivated. What those who deny a racial motive fail to understand is that no one, including George Zimmerman, is immune to the indoctrination and conditioning of white supremacy and racism.
The white supremacist (xenophobic and racist) legacy we’ve inherited from our colonial ancestors has ensured, to this day, that it isn’t easy to be anything other than white in this country (and many other countries). From the genocide of an entire continent of Native Americans (which still continues), to the enslavement of hundreds of thousands of non-native Africans, to the ghettoization and criminalization of immigrants (some for being “illegal,” others for being not white enough), to Jim Crow and the Civil Rights Movement; we are a nation whose historical narrative is deeply entrenched in racial oppression. The items listed above are a handful of examples resulting from systemic white supremacy whose influence can be traced back to before settlers ever stepped foot on American soil.
“If the soil of the United States could speak, before saying a word it would cough up our blood. Choking frantically, crust-curdling with the gore of a oppressed peoples it has been force-fed. White supremacy has water-boarded it with the remnants of its genocide of us.” – BYP100
I know you, you know our history but are you aware that the last person born into slavery (in the United States) died only 65 years ago? The American Civil War ended only 148 years ago and the African-American Civil Rights Movement began only 58 years ago. Seeing these numbers may help individuals recognize that the push for freedom and equality for black and brown people is a relatively new phenomenon in the historical context of the US. The Civil Rights Movement isn’t over, we all have a lot more work to do. Cut to today, the United States has a black president but the assault on communities of color continues with initiatives like ‘Stop and Frisk’, the weakening of the historically praised Voting Rights Act, the expanding influence and proliferation of the Prison-Industrial Complex, the ever widening class divides and the outright murdering of young unarmed men of color. In spite of all the evidence to the contrary, white folks want so badly to believe in a post-racist America that they attempt to erase the black narrative and scrutinize those who would express their lived truths.
“White people’s number one freedom in the United States of America is the freedom to be totally ignorant about those who are other than white.” – Jane Elliott on White Privilege
The murder of Martin is the terrible outcome of a system that mistreats and criminalizes men of color from a young age while permitting law enforcement officers and armed vigilantes, like Zimmerman, to use unnecessary (often deadly) force. It is the result of a system that empowers people such as Zimmerman to profile, stalk and eventually kill a ‘perceived threat’ with the knowledge that they’ll likely get away with it (history is on their side). It is this same system that allows white folks (and a majority white jury) the freedom to choose to ignore the blatant racism at work while people of color cry-out in protest.
To suggest that the disproportionate criminalization and imprisonment of people of color in this country, especially men of color, had nothing whatsoever to do with the murder of a young black man (who was without a doubt profiled as a “criminal” by Zimmerman) is to betray a vast ignorance of not only our history of racist policing but also our racially biased justice system and our skewed white-centric education system. To suggest that people of color do not know racism when they see it, is to deny an entire legacy of racial oppression at the hands of white folks.
“What are the odds that people of color, who have never gotten it wrong, have suddenly lost their minds and become unable to separate truth from fiction? Counter to that, what are the odds that white folks, who have never gotten it right yet, have become highly perceptive? The odds are pretty long.” – Tim Wise (White Privilege, Racism, White Denial & The Cost of Inequality)
To white folks who deny racism as a motivation behind Zimmerman’s crime, I urge you to stand alongside people of color (not in front of them) and amplify their voices to demand justice not just for Trayvon Martin but for all people of color who continue to be victims of a system that perpetuates racism. I ask you to question your ‘authority’ on the subject and attempt to understand and subvert your white privilege and white supremacy.
Consider being an ally and adding your voice to petitions and causes that demand justice.
image – The Newsroom