Given the current social climate in America – I feel obligated to address this huge elephant in the room.
The fact is… I feel pressure to not incessantly advocate for Trayvon Martin, despite my urge to do so. Pressure from whom, you may ask? Society. What makes this even more embarrassing and ironic is – I’m black. I’m not proud to admit to my previous statement, but I’m here to be honest. Deep down, I sometimes feel as if publicly advocating for someone of my race can actually hurt efforts to make a change. I fear it will transform the issue to be only perceived as a “black issue.” I think what should be foremost on people’s minds when thinking about this case, is that an unarmed, young, human being was murdered after being profiled and stalked by a man who didn’t identify himself as a neighborhood watchman. This is not a “black thing.” This is a “My God, that poor child could have been my son, my brother, my cousin, my friend, or neighbor” thing.
When you’re black and speak out against racism, some people look at you like you have a conflict of interest. I will also admit that I was ambivalent about choosing this piece as my first commentary for my blog. My ambivalence comes from not wanting people to label my blog as a blog about the perils of racism or that I’ll be labeled as the “angry black blogger.” It’s sad, but my experiences have made me extremely self-conscious and aware of how my words and actions can be misinterpreted simply because I’m black. In America, when you’re black, and speak up against something that many people feel uncomfortable discussing, you risk being labeled as the “angry black person.” In general, I don’t feel free to openly express myself on these types of matters without being labeled. Given the nature and title of my blog, it would be inappropriate and hypocritical not to write about this.
About a year ago, I signed an online petition for George Zimmerman to be arrested and charged with murder. I decided to circulate the petition via email instead of publicly posting it on my Facebook timeline. Facebook is a great platform to bring awareness to an issue, but my apprehensions made me decide not to. I didn’t want to desensitize my non-black friends to this issue by having them only see their black friends expressing outrage. This is why it’s so important for people of other races to speak out against injustices towards people who are not of their race/ethnicity.
I’ve seen people on Facebook complain about black people writing about an injustice relating to someone else who is black. I’ve also read numerous comments for online articles, and noticed patterns in certain types of articles. For example, I usually notice the following type of statements when reading articles about George Zimmerman being on trial: “Al Sharpton is always whining about something…” “These black people always get mad when one of their own die, but don’t care when it’s because of black on black crime…” “I bet you they wouldn’t care if that happened to a white person…” There are other comments that I will not repeat, because it’s just flat out racist.
On the other hand, I am extremely proud of the Facebook statuses expressing dismay and disgust that were posted by my non-black friends. The fact that I felt to compelled to share that in 2013 is not only sad, but proves how huge the problem is. When I saw those posts, I felt relieved and hopeful. It showed me that this verdict affected America as a whole. Days after the verdict, people of all races, whether it was a journalist, blogger, commenter, or even a friend on Facebook, were still expressing their disappointment, anger, and frustration about what happened. For the first time, I saw people who don’t look like me venting about the inequality of our justice system with as much passion that I have about the issue. As a black woman, I needed that validation. It validated that my struggles with discrimination are not just in my head in the eyes of others, but is also apparent to people who don’t share this burden.
Many think that our nation is becoming more divided because of the recent dialogue about race in America, but I perceive it as progression. Dialogue is the first step for change. We were all taught to believe that racism no longer exists in America, because of the abolition of slavery, and now even more so because we have a black president. Americans are realizing that pretending that racism and discrimination doesn’t exist, doesn’t make it go away, and it only makes the problem worse. When people see that everyone is outraged, it makes the issues harder to ignore and forces society to act as a whole.
We are all human beings and need start perceiving injustice as something that is a universal threat, and not just when it’s a threat to our own communities. This applies to everyone, especially black people. Sometimes, I see people allow racism to seep into their hearts because of hurtful past experiences. For example, I was shocked and disgusted when many people celebrated the O.J. Simpson verdict. I understand that he had to be acquitted because of the reasonable doubt brought into the case due to the LAPD’s lead investigator, Mark Fuhrman, being a racist who handled the crime scene’s evidence. What astonished me was that many people in the black community celebrated O.J.’s acquittal, simply because he was black, and not because they believed he was innocent. When asked if I was happy with the verdict, and that a black man wasn’t convicted, I would reply, “I’m not happy. A man just got away with murder. Who cares if he’s black?” I felt ashamed while watching the news and seeing flocks of black people cheering and holding up signs of support for a murderer. This sad moment in history displays how the black community is so used to the justice system failing them that many would celebrate an injustice, because a black person was finally on the receiving end of a favorable verdict. This doesn’t excuse this type of mentality, but it’s a testament of the how deeply rooted the mistrust in justice being blind is.
We can never give Trayvon Martin’s parents their son back, but we can make sure that he did not die in vain, and I believe that is already happening. Because of him, the stigma of hoodies has been addressed and is changing. I grew up with my mother telling my little brother not to wear his hood at night, because some people, including cops, perceive black boys and men wearing hoodies as criminals. She told him that she didn’t want anyone to use that as an excuse to shoot him. Maybe, one day when I have children, I won’t have to worry about having to repeat my mother’s sadly accurate advice to them. I think we’re finally getting closer to that day.