‘I Am Not Trayvon Martin’ Provides a Much Needed Reflection on Race in America
I’m the last person who should have anything to say about Trayvon Martin and the Zimmerman verdict. I’m a white girl from the American Midwest. I know nothing about racism or the effect it has on the lives of people of color. While it seems that the court wanted to ignore the racial component of this case, it seems undeniable that race was important.
But I ran across something the other day that really hit home. It’s a Tumblr called I Am Not Trayvon Martin. At first I thought it might be some kind of white supremacist malarkey and I almost didn’t click the link. However, it turns out to be a cogent reflection on race and privilege in modern America.
I Am Trayvon Martin is full of stories from people who recognize that racism has touched their lives. As I read through these stories, the unfairness of what happened to Martin became more acute, if that is even possible. Here are some excerpts:
- I am not Trayvon Martin. I am a 23 year old blonde white woman. Last night I walked around my family’s upper middle class, gated community smoking marijuana with another young white woman. We made no attempt to conceal this fact, and we were politely acknowledged by security guards ‘patrolling’ the area. We were not stopped by anyone at any time. We were neither quiet nor considerate of our neighbors, but we were invisible, even untouchable, in a way that Trayvon never was.
- I am not Trayvon Martin. I am a 47 year old white woman who got caught 3 times in a 2 year period driving without insurance and with a suspended license. Not only was I not arrested, one time the police gave me a ride home because they had impounded my car.
- I am not Trayvon Martin — but my father, cousin, and brother are. I am a twenty four year old African American woman and I have a brother two years younger than me, and even younger cousin, and a father I adore. I have lived and known these Trayvon Martin’s all my life — but now the paranoia is setting in.
My father is the mayor of a small city in Texas and I never thought I would feel out right terror in seeing him walking the sidewalks at twilight in an all white area. He was looking for an fallen tree branch in a power line that a citizen had called him about — and I watched him from the car — walking the sidewalks and almost in between houses looking for it. I didn’t realize how scared I was until I nearly lost sight of him. What if he met a George Zimmerman in a place I couldn’t see him?
And when he was late picking me up from work — my heart filled instantly with fear. Where is he? Did something happen? Did he meet a George Zimmerman… and the scary thing is that I’ve never felt this way before. I’ve always been worried about my brother and cousin because they are young, and they are boys… and boys do stupid things. But I never worried about my father before — the man who raised me. The man I’ve always looked to to fix and solve all of our family problems. Who leads by example and is looked up to by our family, church, and town. The one person who literally keeps our family together even if we don’t realize it.
I am not Trayvon Martin — but it scares me to think that my father could be. It scares me to death.
There are so many stories, and they are spot on. Look, I’m not going to be another Trayvon Martin. I’m more than a little ashamed to admit this, but almost no one I know will be another Trayvon Martin. As a white woman I am not burdened with this country’s racial history. I understand what people are trying to say when they change their Facebook status to or tweet the phrase, We are all Trayvon Martin. It’s meant to convey solidarity and a shared feeling of of outrage at this injustice.
But in the end, that’s easy for someone like me to say.
It feels weird and disingenuous to basically co-opt the experiences of people of color. I can ignore racism. That’s my privilege. It’s not bad to recognize it; in fact, I think it’s the only way forward. By claiming that anyone could have been Trayvon Martin that night erases the very real differences in treatment between white people and people of color. I know people mean well, but that’s unfair.
I don’t want to imply that people of all races can’t be angry and saddened and mobilized by the Zimmerman verdict. Of course you can, and we all should be. But be careful not to ignore the realities of our society in the process.
Photo Credit: Stuart Tracte