To show solidarity in the wake of George Zimmerman‘s acquittal, some White Americans have insisted, “I am not Trayvon Martin.”
The burgeoning campaign is also, to some extent, to assuage White guilt. By acknowledging their privilege, they’re saying they are willing to relinquish it — or at the very least, diminish it.
But it’s not that simple. This country was made for them; these laws were created to protect them; this society was crafted to exalt them. And a simple hat tip to that fact — though admirable — is not going to change the racial narrative in this country in any meaningful cultural, economic, judicial or political way.
But what if a racist White man admitted that it’s a struggle to mask the symptoms of his disease, and that he’s not Trayvon Martin because he “killed” him?
Now we’re listening.
In an essay posted on Overbear.Wordpress.com, Eddie Hatcher writes that he believes Zimmerman was fearful of Trayvon because he is also fearful of Black manhood. Acknowledging that the fear — cultivated in “hunt clubs, on farms, in country stores, and in gun shops” in a small North Carolina town — was instilled in him as a child, he describes it as “unreasonable,” but very real:
In our minds, we were not discriminating against anyone because of their skin color; we were simply describing the way people acted, their mannerisms, language, dress, etc. Nothing about that seemed racist. Sure, the N word was thrown around occasionally, but black people use that word to describe themselves, so we thought it was OK.
Looking back, I think the worst part may have been the “justified” fear. While the words of wisdom demanded that I not talk to strangers, a part of growing up was learning which strangers were safe and which were dangerous. Of all the strangers out there, none were more important to avoid than black men. If you see a black man, check for your exits. Make sure your friends and siblings are close, as they might not have noticed the black man yet. Whatever you do, don’t talk to them. The more of a “homie” they appear to be, the more dangerous they are.
Of all the speculation of what happened the day that Trayvon Martin was shot dead, one detail of the killer’s story that I do not question is his claim that he was afraid. No doubt he has learned, like me, to be afraid of black men. Florida law says that Zimmerman had a right to stand his ground and defend himself if a “reasonable person” would fear for their life in that situation. No reasonable grown man with a gun would be afraid of a skinny minor, but a racist person like myself would.
But unlike Zimmerman, I take ownership of my fear, my racism. I’m not going to shoot someone because their skin color makes me afraid. I’m going to do the opposite. When I see the “black man in a dark alley” and that childhood fear pops out, I push it down to replace it with a smile and a nod. When people cultivate that fear, innocent children die.
Seeing Trayvon Martin’s murderer go free leaves me feeling hopeless, as though no amount of effort as an adult can undo the damage I did as a child.
I’m like an alcoholic trying to change my life. I’ve walked through the door, but there are 11 more steps and I have no idea what any of them are.
I killed Trayvon Martin.
Read entire essay by clicking here.
Full disclosure: I am not a fan of cosmetic white guilt, particularly in the context of racial tragedies birthed through hatred such as the murder of Trayvon Martin, especially when acknowledging that guilt — and easily perforated concern — lends power and credence to their words while Black pain continues to be ignored.
It does nothing for White Americans to acknowledge entrenched racism and White supremacy if they do nothing but sing a verse of Kumbaya, then quietly return to existing comfortably as heirs to a stolen nation built with the blood of Native Americans and on the backs of enslaved Africans –albeit with a twinge of guilt.
If there is an exchange that best illustrates my feelings on the matter, it is the following scene from Spike Lee’s classic film, Malcolm X:
“Excuse me, Mr. X,” said the blonde co-ed as Malcolm approached. “I’ve read some of your speeches and I honestly believe that a lot of what you have to say is true. I’m a good person in spite of what my ancestors did. And I wanted to ask you, what can a white person like myself, who isn’t prejudiced, what can I do to help you and further the cause?”
Without hesitation, Malcolm answered, “Nothing.”
There have been some Black Americans who have given powerful testimonies proclaiming, “I am Trayvon Martin.” And what they are saying is this skin, this body, in this country makes them disposable targets the minute they step outside of the door. They fear for their sons, brothers, fathers, lovers, uncles and friends.
These are the narratives that we need to hear, right?
There was a 17-year-old child named Trayvon Martin who was shot through the heart and left to bleed out on wet grass while his killer held him down and watched — and he walked out of that courtroom room a free man.
So while I sincerely applaud Mr. Thatcher’s bravery, discussions on alleviating white guilt are just going to have to wait.