As the mother of a teen son who looks an awful lot like Trayvon Martin, the trial over his murder is very emotionally draining for me - so much so that I cannot yet even write about it. Because it needs to be talked about, here is a guest post from a friend who sums up that thing that I just can't verbalize quite yet very eloquently:
Imitation of Life
by Dena Williams
Well…it’s over – the presentation of the case against George
Zimmerman for the murder of Trayvon Martin. The pundits continue to speak,
analyze, debate, fuel the contentiousness and profit from this horrendous
display of brutality, but here is the thing: they can’t tell me what my life
experiences have taught me.
It took all I had to follow and listen to this case
dispassionately. I had to. I wanted to divorce myself from the hateful
contention of racism and prejudice. I listened as though my own life and the
lives of people of color I know depended on it. And it does. Not solely because
we could die and often times we do as a result of how we look, but because no
matter what we do, how we change our language to speak “properly,” take
finishing classes so that we can present ourselves with polish,
“professionalism” and etiquette, the burden is always on us to “fit in,” to not
be offensive, to not be aggressive. The pressure is on us to blend in, to be
likeable. These things, we are told, are the pillars of a successful and productive
life – just like George Zimmerman put the pressure on Mr. Martin to fit into
what he thought a responsible adult should look like and who had the right to
be in that community. There is the rub – and the critical failure of humanity.
My (our) Black skin always puts me behind the eight ball.
The quality and content of my character will never be the foremost thing that
determines the quality of my existence on this earth. It will, at most, be a
mitigating factor which allows non-Black people to learn to live with people
who look like me.
When the prosecution and defense teams finally stopped
speaking, the Trayvon Martin case reduced me to tears because, as I thought
about a profiling incident that happened to me when I was a dorky, teenaged,
co-ed in a pink hooded college sweatshirt, it hit me: IT COULD HAVE BEEN ME. It
hit me very deeply and personally as I recalled the racism I
experienced personally and professionally, the accusations hurled at folks who
look like me for just walking into a room. I cried as I looked at Mr. Martin’s
parents, who are equally guilty of being Black and birthing a Black child. It’s
hurtful because it is doubtful that anyone who has not experienced it will ever
understand in the depths of their hearts the loss we suffer because we are born
Black. Before we make even a single movement we are judged and convicted. We
spend our existence having to counteract the effects of the thought process of
non-Black people. We lose our lives and our livelihoods as well as the
opportunity to live in quiet, clean and orderly environments. We lose the
chance to be educated and afforded the opportunity to choose for ourselves our
activities. We loose these things because the people in control of the
distribution of resources are not Black.
All we are guilty of is being present before the non-Black people
can be off to the races with their assumptions, based upon superficial things
that may not reflect our mindset or intentions toward them – just like George
Zimmerman was with Mr. Martin. I cannot, in clear conscious, accuse him of purposely
setting out to kill Mr. Martin. There simply isn’t enough evidence of that. But
I can convict him of profiling and being responsible for killing a human being
who was only guilty of being present. Because of his white skin tone, George
Zimmerman gets the benefit of the doubt – and he gets to live. Mr. Martin and
Black people do not get the benefit of the doubt.
The idea of privacy is something that white people hold onto
as a “right,” but Black people are not so naïve as we’ve never had that luxury.
People have always taken what was in our possession – our bodies, our children,
our family members – and they’ve always listened to our conversations. George
Zimmerman was not forced to explain why he did not retreat if he feared for his
safety and life, but Mr. Martin was supposed to retreat; he was supposed to
just “go home.” He was never afforded the benefit of the doubt that he was in
danger – a danger that proved to be very real, because he is dead. He was
correct to characterize Zimmerman as a “creepy-ass cracker.” He symbolized his
fear and concern, and he is dead. There is no stronger argument for Mr.
Martin’s defensive actions that got him shot.
Therefore, my people, we are all at danger, all the time.