Calling out Racism on the RDF site »« Trayvon Martin: Murdered Walking While Black

Bearing the weight of others’ suspicions

 

 

By Frederick Sparks

It’s difficult to put into words how disturbed, angry and depressed I have been by the Trayvon Martin story, in particular the chilling 911 recording of the young man’s cries for help which certainly cast doubts on any claims of justified self-defense. Yet it appears for the moment that, as in the brutal murder of Emmitt Till, justice for the victim is not forthcoming.

Jonathan Capehart of the Washington Post does a great job of putting the Martin murder in a larger context of Black male experience..the ongoing set of survival skills that those of us with advanced degrees and without rap sheets also exercise intuitively when confronted with the very real possibility of violence and death based on our perceived threatening nature.  Capehart recounts the rules learned at his mother’s knee:

“Don’t run in public.” Lest someone think you’re suspicious.
“Don’t run while carrying anything in your hands.” Lest someone think you stole something.
“Don’t talk back to the police.” Lest you give them a reason to take you to jail or worse.

Sadly, my own nephew, a late 80s baby born the year I started college and now a college graduate and MBA student, has had recent run ins with police in Dallas, TX. Luckily the outcome has not been nearly as tragic as the Martin case, but the fear of such a result is a constant borne by black men and their loved ones.

Comments

  1. Pteryxx says

    Some of us FTB’ers are near Dallas, like me, if your nephew ever has need of … whatever the race equivalent of a “beard” is. Some white-looking ally or other.

  2. blackskeptics says

    This is the reality of the black body as perpetual target, savage, criminal racialized other. Every black child knows that he or she will never ever be considered innocent, precious or valuable within the narrative of American culture as exceptionalist paradise. Living in L.A., home of the William Parker/Darryl Gates school of paramilitary terrorist gansta’ policing, it’s part of our cultural DNA.

  3. says

    To be Black is to be

    alien strange ugly threatening intruder
    uncivilised not welcome primitive brutish
    stupid dirty despicable not one of us

    Try to protect yourself

    Smile at people, make yourself small
    Keep your head down, don’t make eye contact
    Be friendly, look respectable
    Don’t stand too close to white people, you’ll make them uncomfortable
    Don’t stand too close to women
    Don’t stare at people
    Look away, mind your own business
    Try to look friendly
    Keep yourself neat, dress well, don’t look low class
    Don’t listen to hip-hop in public (unless it’s very very quiet on your headphones)
    Don’t gather in groups with other ethnic people in public, that’s threatening
    Speak carefully, so they know you’re educated and articulate
    Keep smiling, even when they don’t smile back
    Ignore the taunts, think of higher things, they don’t really mean it
    They’re just ignorant, they need education, God give me patience

    In stores, be polite to the staff. Never hold any merchandise for too long or put it near your pockets or bag. Make sure your hands are out in the open where everyone can see them. Before leaving, make sure to ask them if they want to check your bag.
    Always have your concession card and correct tickets on the train and bus.
    Always know the laws and rules and follow them to the letter.
    Don’t give police, ticket officers or anyone else an extra reason to pick on you. You already have too much melanin in your skin, that’s reason enough.
    Don’t loiter in the street. Don’t look too long at people or houses or other buildings.

    If you are a scientist, teacher, doctor, engineer, speaker or poet, know your field well. You have to be more competent than everyone else to be taken seriously. If you’re incompetent you represent your race, if you’re brilliant you’re an aberration.
    If you fail in life, it’s because you’re lazy and undisciplined. If you succeed, it’s because of affirmative action and special opportunities.

    You can try to protect yourself
    But until you can change your skin
    Into something less offensive
    You will still be Black

    Still alien strange ugly threatening intruder
    uncivilised not welcome primitive brutish
    stupid dirty despicable not one of us

    Your mere existence is an affront to common decency.

    And you will never be safe.

    For Trayvon Martin
    Rest in Peace, dear boy
    There will be a reckoning

      • says

        Thank you. It’s just a few thoughts I had when thinking about this senseless tragedy. Putting things down in writing makes them clearer and easier to deal with.

        And thanks for linking that piece by Gwendolyn Brooks. It’s still so poignant after all these years. I hope to write half as well as that one day.

    • blackskeptics says

      Thanks again for the insightful evocative piece. I am going to run your prior piece on RDF today with the title “Calling out Racism on the RDF site”

  4. Mike Check says

    The thing is, most people of every color in America feel some sort of “unfair treatment”, yet they don’t take that experience to its logical conclusion, apply it to others, get some empathy for other people and change their biased behavior accordingly. When I hear any young man, of any color, suggest there is no police or authority bias against black men, I’m amazed, because I’m a clean-cut local white guy, and I got harassed by police, in Orlando, and that’s a normal experience for many of my peers. I can’t imagine the constant pressure of being “profiled”.

  5. says

    Growing up a [passing] Jewish kid in Oakland, it didn’t take long to figure out that my black friends were treated differently by authority figures, wide ranging from principles and teachers to police and security guards. It is unfortunate, and cases like this are the (frighteningly unsurprising) consequence of a system that profiles and discriminates. The advice to pass, though conventional wisdom and very pragmatic in the broader scope, as outlined by many smart folks, is only a way of coping with a symptom, though I know in this particular section of FTB I’m preaching to the proverbial choir.

    I’d be really interested to see more posts and discussion of ways that people can be active about this. My kid brother has taken a particular interest in the police (and, in this case, “pseudo-police”) brutality issue, especially as connected to race and age dynamics. I must admit, I’ve always wished there was more activism on these issues in the wider community of skeptics. Further suggestions and readings for folks who want to advocate on this issue would be much appreciated.

    • Dalillama says

      I’d be really interested to see more posts and discussion of ways that people can be active about this. …I must admit, I’ve always wished there was more activism on these issues in the wider community of skeptics. Further suggestions and readings for folks who want to advocate on this issue would be much appreciated.

      A lot of THIS. I’m white, and I grew up in a very white town, so it took me a while to become aware of the level of ingrained racism in our society, and ever since then, I’ve been depressed by the fact that there seems to be basically squat I can do to improve things.

  6. mynameischeese says

    And Gwendolyn Brooks:

    …The fun was disturbed, then all but nullified
    When the Dark Villain was a blackish child
    Of Fourteen, with eyes still too young to be dirty,
    And a mouth too young to have lost every reminder
    Of its infant softness…

    http://tinyurl.com/7fbdvn6

  7. grahammartinroyle says

    I don’t know what to say about this, I just don’t have the words to express how I feel. I’m white, I’m male, I’m English, I have so much privilege it’s unbelievable, I can never truly experience what it’s like not having that privilege But I feel that I have to try. For someone, anyone, to suffer this type of behaviour just because of who they are, because of something that they cannot (and should not even want) to change is unbelievable.

    The post from Winterwind, while being very eloquent, upsets me because I don’t believe that anyone should ever have to be like that. Everyone should be allowed to be who they are, they shouldn’t have to hide, to be subservient, to cower before authority.

    I hope the killer of Trayvon Martin is bought to justice, and soon.

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