This past Saturday, July 13, George Zimmerman was found not guilty of murdering Trayvon Martin.
I’m certain that everyone reading this has been inundated with news about the incident, the alleged self-defense killing of a 17-year-old Florida native on February 26, 2012. Trayvon died of a single gunshot wound fired at intermediate range. I’d rather not discuss the details of the case at length, you can find them all over the internet, including the Wikipedia page.
The media explosion that followed Martin’s death guaranteed that race relations in America would be on the tip of everyone’s tongue for the whole past year. Zimmerman, who is of German and Peruvian ancestry and identifies as Hispanic, became wholly white for all media intents and purposes. I believe that this occurred because the other party to the incident was black. Conversations (I should say arguments) turned to what would happen if the races were reversed. Some would argue that had a black man shot a white teenager, he would have been charged and convicted with relative ease, and some would argue that there would have been no case and no media circus. I, personally, can believe that maybe there would have been less media involvement, but I refuse to accept that a black man killing a white teenager in Sanford, Florida would have walked free with ease. But there’s a lesson here: race is constructed relationally. I do believe that had the teenager been white, Zimmerman would not have been cast as a white man. I believe that his Hispanic heritage would have been much more relevant.
That’s not the only thing we learned from this awful year. I, for one, learned how profoundly unkind people could be toward someone who was probably facing the second-hardest moments of her life. Many commentators attacked Rachel Jeantel for her size, her skin color, and her manner of speaking, none of which had anything to do with the matter at hand. She stood up and spoke for her deceased friend, and she deserved better treatment than she received if only because of what seemed a genuine effort to do right by the deceased.
I want to mention briefly, on the subject of unkindness, that the social media reaction to Rachel Jeantel, Trayvon Martin, George Zimmerman, and the case itself has been some of the ugliest I have ever seen. The mish-mash of privilege, hate, fear, condescension, and racism left me trying to decide whether to cry or vomit. I won’t link to them here; it seems disrespectful.
Disrespectful because whatever Trayvon Martin is to America, whether he’s just another black homicide victim, or one of the latest in a long list of racist homicides, he was someone’s child. To his father, Tracy Martin, he was a “best friend” and represented “the greatest gift God can give to a man.” His mother literally cannot bring herself to visit his grave. There are family members and friends who are beside themselves with grief, and have been for the past year. You see, in all the anger, all the politics, it’s easy to forget the individual, the bright promising young man who got in trouble, who smoked marijuana and fought in school, who wore a hoodie and was out later than good sense said a young black man should be out on the street. Who was creative and got good grades. Who was loved.
As a young black man who used to wear hoodies, who fought in school, who is often out late at night, Trayvon’s death was frightening. Not because George Zimmerman was a homicidal racist predator or anything like that, but because I understand that for many I am an object of fear. I live in a mostly white neighborhood and wear clothing that is, to some, the “uniform of crime.” I have not, historically, backed down from every fight I should have, and I am aware that to many I am an object of fear. And that puts me at risk. What I’m saying is don’t forget that the political is always personal, too.
A young man is dead. One who was the light of the world for Tracy Martin and Sybrina Fulton, and so on behalf of everyone here at Lady Geek Girl and Friends, I’d like to offer our condolences. To them, especially, but to all his family and friends, and anyone else hurt deeply by his death. We can’t begin to understand your pain, but we feel for you.
I’ll leave you with this, from Let’s Be Friends Again: