After 17-year-old Trayvon Martin was killed in February, the online response to his death grew to critical mass. Millions of people signed a petition, thousands showed up at marches across the country, and many declared, “I am Trayvon Martin.”
While supporters of Tayvon’s story crossed race, ethnic, and class divides, one woman thinks white folks who say they they are Trayvon are misguided. Although their support for his cause, as well as their willingness to fight injustice, may be genuines–they are not and will never be Trayvon Martin.
I know you wear that shirt to stand in solidarity with Trayvon, Troy, and other victims of injustice. The purpose of those shirts is to humanize these victims of our society, by likening them to the middle class white activist wearing it. And once we’ve humanized the victims, this proves to us the arbitrariness of their deaths and thereby the injustice at play.
But the fact of the matter is that these men’s deaths are anything but arbitrary. The fact that the real Troy Davis and Trayvon Martin and countless other victims of oppression are buried under 6 feet of cold dirt while we middle class white activists are alive, marching, and wearing their names is an indication that our societal system is working exactly as it’s intended.
A more accurate t-shirt to display on my white body would be “I AM GEORGE ZIMMERMAN.” Zimmerman and I were indoctrinated in the same American discourse where we learned that the “other,” particularly black men like Trayvon and Troy, were less human and were to be feared. Society taught me that as a little white girl, I must preserve my purity and goodness, and that the presence of young single males threatened it. Society taught me that being in the presence of a BLACK man compounds that threat exponentially. I have been taught that male, black, bodies are an immediate threat to my safety and the well being of society as a whole, and Zimmerman was taught the same damn thing. We’re all taught it.
This video reminds me of Michael Skolnik’s piece, “White People You Will Never Look Suspicious Like Trayvon Martin,” in which he tackles issues white privilege and the downside of racism and stereotypes.
Although the specifics of the Trayvon Martin case are beginning to divide people along racial and political lines, if we’re able to move past these divisions, this incident has the potential to open up real dialogue about how we talk about race and racism in our country.
What do you think about the video?