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
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.
© 2013 Dena Williams