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I Am Not Trayvon Martin

When Trayvon Martin was murdered last year, I remember seeing many people post things like “I am Trayvon Martin” online, sometimes accompanied by photos of themselves in hoodies. At first I thought it was something people of color were doing as a sign of solidarity and as a reminder that they, too, face the same prejudice and danger that Trayvon did, but then I noticed lots of white folks doing it. This sort of bothered me.

Now that the awful verdict has appeared, I’ve been seeing it again, but I’ve also been seeing plenty of thoughtful responses to it. For instance, this Tumblr, simply titled “We Are Not Trayvon Martin.”

The Tumblr is full of posts from people who submit their photos along with a note about why they are not Trayvon–that is, how they benefit from privilege. Here’s one:

I am a young white woman.  Last night, I attended a JusticeforTrayvon rally in East LA.  As I walked up the block toward the main square, I passed a line of (all white) cops.

“Are you going to the rally?” one asked.

“Yes,”  I replied.

“Behave yourself,” he said with a wink.

I gave a short laugh.  “I will”  (I really wanted to say, “You, too.”)

He gave me a big, friendly smile and pointed me toward the square.

I am not Trayvon Martin.

Another one:

I am not Trayvon Martin. I am a white, 30-year-old woman living with my husband and young son in the Midwest. We live two doors down from a black family that includes teenage sons. I have never met them, never introduced myself, never made an effort to show that I am happy we are neighbors, that they are safe in their neighborhood and respected by their neighbors. I do not fear them as black men; it’s more that I’m a shy person, afraid of the awkwardness of reaching out to anyone. But fear of any kind prevents community, breeds suspicion, and can lead to isolation and violence.

Will my white son wonder, one day, why we don’t know these neighbors? I repent of my fear; I promise to start being a true neighbor.

And another:

I am not Trayvon Martin. I am an African American stay at home wife and mother of three sweet girls. I was born in Atlanta, Georgia, and though I am not Trayvon Martin. I know many Trayvons. As a former educator I witnessed a system that allowed some of our most brilliant children to fall through the proverbial cracks. As a college educated, lighter hued, African American woman who has always lived a comfortable middle class existence, I know my privilege. Though I have been racialized, and I know what it is like to be a woman in a society that attenuates women consistently, I will NEVER know what it is like to be a black man in Amerikkka. I do not know what it is to be viewed as a menace to society. I am not Trayvon Martin.

It’s not as palatable a message as the stream of “I am Trayvon Martin” posts and hoodie photos. But it rings much more true.

I understand the importance and the appeal of solidarity, so I can sympathize with the sentiments of these posts. But I feel that they are misguided. We (white folks) are not Trayvon. We will never in our lifetimes be Trayvon, except perhaps by some fluke (which then by definition is not the same, because what happened to Trayvon was not a fluke at all).

And even if that happens, our faces will be all over the media with teary reporters talking about what good students we were and how kind we were to our friends, families, and neighbors. They will talk about how we could’ve gone on to write a bestselling novel or start a business or develop a new vaccine, but our lives were tragically cut short by a Bad Person who will soon face the full force of justice.

Sometimes—often, really—it’s more useful to think about our differences than our similarities. This won’t play well to those who claim that “we are all human” and we must “overcome these artificial divides.” Yes, we are, and we must. But before we do so, we must consider the tremendous impact these divides, however artificial, have had on our lives and societies.

You can’t wish this shit away. The familiar refrain of We Are All Human and We Must Look Beyond Our Differences can’t undo Trayvon’s murder and his murderer’s acquittal, and it won’t make this tragedy stop repeating itself. In fact, I would even argue that the more we sing this refrain, the less likely the tragedies are to ever end, because this overplayed song always plays much louder than the uncomfortable but truer songs: the ones about how everyone “sees race,” cops and judges and jurors included, and how the Supreme Court has institutionalized racism into our criminal justice system and on and on.

Before we can do what it takes to make sure that there will never be any more Trayvons ever again, we have to stop singing this song.

We are not Trayvon because we’ve created a world in which some people are Trayvon and some are not. Wishing really really hard that we hadn’t done so will not undo it.

~~~

If you only read one (other) thing about Trayvon Martin and the Zimmerman verdict, make sure it’s this.

Comments

  1. says

    I am not Trayvon Martin. I’ve gotten pulled over with a baggie in the back seat and not batted an eye, because of course they’re not going to do anything more than warn me for forgetting to turn on my headlights.

    • says

      similar to this one: Once when stopped for something (speeding ticket? don’t remember) the cop noticed the collection of license plates in the back seat (I saved all the plates from all the states I’ve lived in). The conversation went like this:
      Cop: “What’s with those plates?”
      Me: “They’re old plates, I’m keeping them as a souvenir.”
      Cop: “Ok.”

  2. smrnda says

    I was thinking about something today and your post really drove it home.

    If I was walking at night and a car seemed to be following me, I would call the cops, and I’d imagine they’d probably take my complaint seriously and might even show up. Calling the cops to say ‘someone is following me in a car’ is something I think of doing because I have reason to suspect that the police would actually do something. Why? I’m a white female. Imagine the 911 call – ‘white female calling. she says a car is following her.’

    A quick detour. I’ve learned from experience that calling certain places of business are a waste of time no matter what the reason – if I need to, I have to stop in. Either nobody picks up the phone, or nobody seems to know the answer.

    I’ve known of Black people, both male and female, who the cops have totally blown off, even when there’s a legitimate threat of violence. Sometimes the cops treat them like suspects rather than potential victims when they call. They’ve been taught, time and time again, that calling the cops is a waste of time. So, that option doesn’t even come to mind.

    It’s kind of how people wonder why young Black men run from the cops. Why? Because sometimes young Black men get beaten up in custody and end up confessing to crimes they couldn’t possibly have committed. It’s sensible risk-management for that demographic.

  3. Pen says

    I’m not Trayvon Martin. I don’t even live in a neighbourhood filled with Trayvon Martin’s, because anyone around here who doesn’t want to share their streets with young black men moved out a while ago and generally speaking, people don’t have guns. I’m not even American, or Floridan. So let me explain why I’m as angry as all hell about this verdict. My daughter is an American citizen and within a few years of being the peer of a whole bunch of Trayvon Martins, perhaps a partner, who knows? Except under the circumstances that’s using the word peer loosely, isn’t it? I don’t know about you, but I find it really hard to have a proper felationship with people who are sort-of-not my peers. The situation repels me. What kind of pile of shit do we fin ourselves dumped in, and what are any of supposed to do about it. How can this be tolerable?

  4. slc1 says

    If you only read one (other) thing about Trayvon Martin and the Zimmerman verdict, make sure it’s this

    In addition to the link provided, I would suggest that one also read the OPED by George Washington Un. Law Professor Jonathan Turley, who explains what was wrong with the state’s case against Zimmerman.

    I have believed from the get go that this case was overcharged. I would point out that the police officer who was in charge of the crime scene, after consulting with the ambulance technicians and interviewing Zimmerman, advised the DA to arrest Zimmerman and charge him with manslaughter. The DA declined to do so, thus setting off the brouhaha that followed.

    The charge of 2nd degree murder was political and also an attempt to force a plea bargain on the defense to a lesser charge (e.g. manslaughter). The latter is standard procedure on the part of prosecutors. After seeing how weak the case was, the defense didn’t fall for it and insisted on going to trial.

    http://www.usatoday.com/story/opinion/2013/07/14/jonathan-turley-on-zimmerman-case/2515397/

  5. says

    I’ve seen a few comments about this kind of sentiment on twitter and the request is to center non-white people, not talk about yourself as a white person.

    Sentiment from these tweets:

    https://twitter.com/_shireenahmed_/status/357140132530364416

    Focus on PoC plz.”@yolo_goat: dear white people: this is unhelpful http://wearenottrayvonmartin.tumblr.com please stop talking about yourselves all day long”

    https://twitter.com/_shireenahmed_/status/357140811873398784

    Focus needs to stay and center around voices of PoC. Checking privilege is nice but agency for non-whites better.

    What are your thoughts, Miri?

    • says

      I see where this is coming from, but I’m not sure that there’s a way to talk about this without someone having a reasonable bone to pick with it. White people shouldn’t be talking about POC’s experiences for them, but white people shouldn’t stay silent about this, either, because that implies that this is POC’s problem to deal with. In fact, I’ve seen plenty of posts from POC deriding the fact that white people aren’t speaking up enough about Trayvon and how privilege plays a part. If we can’t speak up and talk about POC’s experiences (that’s not our place), and we can’t speak up and talk about our privilege, what exactly can we say other than “wow this really sucks what a tragedy”?

      Otherwise, all we can do is signal-boost POC’s writing (which I do) and support individual POC in our lives by listening to them.

      • says

        I agree.

        I am leery to write much about this kind of thing because I know I have a lot of white guilt and other ridiculousness still knocking around in my head. I tend to signal boost more than anything because I figure it’s better to make POC voices heard than for whites to tell others what POC voices are saying.

        I’m not sure what else we can say. The question was genuine and not an attempt to say that you were wrong to write what you did. I suppose I’m just seeking answers. I’m a worrier when it comes to doing things “right.”

        • says

          I completely understand. I don’t write about race much because I think that my role as a white person is to signal-boost, so I do that a lot (on Twitter, Tumblr, and my link roundups here). But occasionally I think I have something to add to the conversation, especially in terms of white privilege, so I do that.

  6. slc1 says

    Relative to the issue of overcharging, there was an interview with one of the jurors who made it clear that the 2nd degree murder charge was dismissed very early on and the rest of the discussion was over the manslaughter charge. Apparently, the jurors were amenable to convicting Zimmerman of something, but could not conclude that the evidence supported the manslaughter charge as described in the jury instructions. This is the vice of overcharging when the prosecution has a weak case. Had the charge been for manslaughter with the possibility of a lesser included charge (it is my information that, in California, that lesser charge would have been 2nd degree manslaughter; I don’t know what it would be in Florida), it appears that the jury might well have convicted on the lesser included in that instance.

    http://www.washingtonpost.com/entertainment/zimmerman-juror-says-sanford-detective-made-big-impression-planning-to-write-a-book/2013/07/15/ce4afbb2-edb1-11e2-bb32-725c8351a69e_story.html

    • slc1 says

      By the way, Ben P on the Lousy Canuck’s web site also agrees that, given the state of the law and the jury instructions, the jury made the correct call so I guess he, like Jonathan Turley, is absurd also.

      • Azkyroth Drinked the Grammar Too :) says

        I’ve read his attempt at defending that position. It is indeed absurd.

  7. queequack says

    I’m a little concerned about the effect of the shooting on the wider Hispanic community. I just read a story about a Hispanic man who was attacked in “revenge” for Trayvon’s death, and I wouldn’t be surprised if there are more such incidents in the near future. I wonder if that’s something to keep in mind when stoking the righteous anger.

    • says

      That’s really sad but also not surprising. I think it’s important to direct the anger at the system that allowed these laws to be made in the first place, along with the institutionalization of racism into the criminal justice system in many other ways. Although I do think Zimmerman is a murderer, I don’t think focusing on him does anybody any good. He’s a tiny piece of a huge puzzle that most of us don’t see the entirety of.

      • queequack says

        Yea, it’s pretty clear to me that Zimmerman should have gotten involuntary manslaughter. I’m surprised he didn’t. . As for the race angle, I think Zimmerman is partially white but (to me at least, and obviously others too) he appears Hispanic, and really that’s what matters. And since Hispanics are also a racial minority, they’re more likely to be held responsible for the actions of one individual. I’m not saying that means people should stop talking about Trayvon Martin or anything like that… it’s just something to keep in mind. Like you said, it’s probably more productive to focus on the system that allows for (you might say foments) crimes like this- but also, I think there’s an obligation to make it clear that that is in fact what you’re talking about. I diverge from some SJs here, because I don’t agree that “righteous anger” allows for a complete abdication of responsibility for what you say and how it comes across to others. Words have power. A similar example: frothing at the mouth over Zimmerman the psychopath/mentally disturbed killer has implications that the owner of the frothing mouth probably hasn’t considered.

  8. Corvus illustris says

    slc1: I would point out that the police officer who was in charge of the crime scene, after consulting with the ambulance technicians and interviewing Zimmerman, advised the DA to arrest Zimmerman and charge him with manslaughter.

    Ya, what really gets me (an old white person with a shock of white hair, living in an area of Michigan in which the most conspicuous non-European ethnos is Odawa-Chippewa) is that “stand your ground” trumps “reasonable man” wherever this kind of law exists (e.g., MI since about 2005). Mr Martin was simply legally lynched, and part of the legislative intent was to enable this and future lynchings. Z’s totally unreasonable behavior–disregarding advice from the PD, for example–would have put him in the slammer under the old rules. Now, these crazy laws imply that all you have to do is turn on an armed stalker and you could wind up dead meat. Me, probably not. Younger relatives–not so sure.

    • Emma says

      Personally, I’m not sure why anyone would post TAA’s opinion on anything, because he is such a deplorable human being, but suit yourself. Social change, political change, whatever…he genuinely believes that nobody can accomplish anything in this area, because reasons.
      And basically, he thinks that this is solely about proof. Colour me unsurprised. Of course it couldn’t have anything to do with terrible laws, or racism, or any of that. Because this is essentially TAA’s answer to everything (except feminism, of course)…”nothing we do is at all effective (citation needed), so why try to do anything at all.” Are you shocked by his apathy? Because if you’ve watched any of his videos, his total lack of compassion for other people quickly becomes very apparent. His idea of an excellent argument is to yell louder and be more obnoxious than his opponent. He thinks he’s some kind of mental giant because he’s figured out that the big guy in the sky doesn’t really exist. Expecting this guy to get it is like expecting an elephant to do jumping jacks.

  9. Sasori says

    First of all apologies for butting in here,
    But (I really hate to say this) as a ‘people of colour’ (not representative of anyone but my self of course) and somebody who has had run-ins with aggressive police stop and search tactics and suspicious neighbourhood watch types in the past, I am not a fan of this campaign and much prefer the one that emphasises the similarities in humanity between different groups of people. I think (leaving aside for a moment the fact that it contradicts the sentiment offered by Martin’s mother) that one has a better chance of succeeding.

    imho, the changes in US society that will need to happen for things like this to become less prevalent can be achieved in any meaningful way without fixing the poverty and inequality, and the linked social distance and fear that provided the context in this case. That will have to involve things like a full employment policy, raising of the minimum wage and things like that all these are pretty much race neutral. If the people running this campaign want even to touch the ‘stand your ground’ laws that may have been a factor in why Zimmerman’s used a gun, they will have to persuade a lot of white people that it is a worthwhile thing to do. I think that there is data that you could easily draw on to do this
    http://www.freakonomics.com/2012/06/29/standing-your-ground/ as the ‘stand your ground’ laws are, according to the paper quoted they are..

    “associated with a significant increase in the number of homicides among whites, especially white males. According to our estimates, between 4.4 and 7.4 additional white males are killed each month as a result of these laws. We find no evidence to suggest that these laws increase homicides among blacks”

    (obviously I’m just an internet derp but) I don’t think the kind of sentiment in the OP above is going to help anyone. It is weightless and doesn’t work on people outside narrow liberal circles, you need to appeal to the wider population.There are plenty of rural poor white people who are on the receiving end of similar police policies to the urban poor black people who are commonly badly treated. There are also lots of young people in the suburbs (and their parents who care about them) who are the victims of much softer but ultimately analogous police tactics. Knitting these people together might be enough to make a small change in police policy.