Well it has been a while since I actually woke any sort of social commentary but this Summer of 2013 has shown the world more than ever that this concept of post-racialism is an illusion.
George Zimmerman Verdict
The shooting of Trayvon Martin and the following case have become the perfect symbols of the various ways in which racism has evolved in America. For one the shooting was justified because Trayvon “looked suspicious” but as a young black man, when I hear that I immediately connect this train of thought to stereotypes of black masculinity that emerged during the latter years of slavery and exploded in popularity in the early twentieth century. These stereotypes showed that a black man is naturally criminal as is seen in the entirety of Birth of a Nation (1915) where the Ku Klux Klan is depicted as saviors from a brutish black man who’s goal was to take the chastity of a white woman. They are shown to be the ones who restored order to the chaos that ensued after granted African Americans their freedom and the Reconstruction period. In 2013 almost a hundred years later this narrative has shifted to something more institutionalized. In a similar fashion to how black men were justifiably lynched following reconstruction into the twentieth century, the unjust shooting of Trayvon Martin is a representation of not only the criminalization of black men but also the countless other young black men that are killed such as Amadou Diallo, Sean Bell, and Ramarley Graham to name a few. The fact of the matter is the roles that existed in the 1915 film still exist today the only change is that people see the election of Obama as an indication that racism no longer exists in America which if you read the Associated Press’s report of racial attitudes in America published last Fall, prejudice against blacks has increased since Obama has been in office.
Aside from the actual shooting which we cannot deny as being unjust not solely because Trayvon was black but because he was unarmed and a child. The way the defense went about the trial is evident that the criminalization of a black man does not stop with his death but continues on as Trayvon was placed on trial for allegedly attacking George Zimmerman. The prosecution deserves a large sum of the blame as well as they were not able to construct a narrative where they showed Trayvon as a human being instead allowing the prosecution to work on the hidden biases in the jurors hearts. Also, the jury verdict reconfirmed for black people and especially black men where they stand in this country, your blackness automatically makes you criminal and thus you can be killed without a second thought and I will be free to live my life. This happened with Emmett Till’s death as the white men that made up the juror found the murders not guilty despite the testimony of Willie Reed who then had to flee the South fearing for his life. What makes this story even more interesting is the actual jury composed of six women. One may think that the women would have sympathized with Sybrina Fulton who’s son was shot but the jury showed how they were going to go off of the established notion of “facts” instead of emotion. Juror B29, the only minority on the jury, spoke out and said she felt George Zimmerman got away with murder but she couldn’t convict him because there was no way to prove an intent to kill. It’s a sad thing when laws that weren’t designed to protect black people continue to allow the criminalization of black bodies because racism is not something tangible. The fact that juror B27 tried to capitalize on the case by signing a book deal is evidence that little respect is given to Trayvon and as a result black people in America. I was with some friends hanging out when the decision came on my phone and I cannot explain how heartbroken and angry I felt. The jury basically permitted civilians to start killing black men because they are seen as a threat and therefore, their murder is justified. My friends and myself had spoken about the case before and how we felt it would end like with a not guilty but we held onto the hope that maybe the system would work for us this time and justice would be served. We were wrong.
The aftermath of the verdict again showed us how post-racialism is an illusion. The media spreading stories of people fearing of riots, the constant devaluing of Trayvon and other black men’s lives via the conversation of black on black crime, and ever present politics of respectability which states that black men won’t be killed if they just pulled up their pants or better yet not litter according to Don Lemon. The riots did not occur as some may have liked and the politics of respectability is a gross oversimplification so they needed another story and the black on black crime debate entered. In a post-Trayvon era people wanted to all of a sudden turn their attention to urban centers such as Chicago and say “look black people are killing themselves”. Yes there is crime in urban cities and it mainly consisted of blacks and latinos but you cannot stop the story there. There of course is the historical pieces that explains how the institutionalization of racism bred these conditions to happen. If you forced a group of people to live in a small section of a city (redlining), you terrorized despite it being in the north (police brutality), you do not pump money into the schools to provide an adequate education system but instead close 50 public schools, you have a war on drugs that does not wage war on drugs but a war on black people, you provide little economic opportunities for these communities, and thus you have the current situation you have in Chicago. The things I listed above are still a over simplification of the problem but I hope you get my point that black on black crime is not a justification for George Zimmerman killing Trayvon, if anything it is a bigger insult and stinks of racism as this argument suggests that Zimmerman did the world a favor by getting rid of another potential criminal. A “criminal” who had never been arrested and though may have a few problems in school was not the malicious marijuana smoker that the prosecution made him out to be. This is seen not only with how he deeply affected his family but how he affected Rachel Jeantel who had to deal with the ugliness of the trial in such a public field via social media commentary. I say all of this to say that the murder of Trayvon Martin is a reminder of the complicated structure of America which is built on the foundation of racial subjugation. What I must say is that this tragedy has allowed America and more importantly the black community to wake up and realized that we have failed and allowed Trayvon Martins to go unnoticed because we entered a false sense of comfort.
Stay tuned as I will release the next part of this series within a week or so but until then please keep Trayvon family in your prayers as they continue to deal with this tragedy.
P.S some links to check out.