Tuesday, July 23, 2013

We've All Encountered Trayvon

I get George Zimmerman.

Now, before you go all gooseshit on me, take a gander...

A young white man walked down an uncommonly deserted New York side street at one AM. Approaching him from the other direction were three black youths. The closer they got the more the white man felt discomfort. Whether this could be attributed to the time of night, the lack of fellow New Yorkers about, the dark clothes the young black men were wearing, or the conspiratorial air they were giving off, the white man couldn't tell you. However, he became keenly aware of the hairs on his arm standing at attention and the wallet in his front pocket banging against his thigh every time he took a step. He cursed the fact he didn't take the longer route on the more brightly lit, more densely populated thoroughfare. 

Just before the youths passed, they spread out, causing a wider birth for the white man to skirt around. Even with that obstacle, the white man took a larger-than-necessary sidestep to his right almost tripping and hitting his knee on a hydrant, which caused the youths to break out into laughter. After recovering, the white man picked up his pace to the end of the block. When he got to Seventh Avenue, the white man turned to look down the darkened street. The echo of their laughter had died out, the youths were gone.

The white man in the above narrative was an incredibly naive me in my twenties. The youths, to my knowledge, I never saw again. Did they at any point mean me harm or mischief? I will never know the answer to that. Besides, that piece of the story is theirs to own. What's mine to own, and the piece I take away from this incident, more than anger or humiliation, is shame. Shame that I allowed myself to feel threatened. Shame that I bought into common stereotypes. Shame that I took an unnecessarily large sidestep. And that shame lives with me to this day.

I've asked myself over and over, why did they laugh? It's the strongest part of my memory. I would rather their laughing had nothing to do with me. But there's this you know better than that flicker that nags at me, keeping this memory to the forefront. And after President Obama's speech the other day, I am more than certain those young men laughed because of my overreaction to them. Just as the ladies who clutched their purses when alone in an elevator with young Barry Obama, so did I with averted eyes and wary demeanor slam those youths with the prejudice they've experienced every single day. Their laughing wasn't joviality, it was resignation tinged with payback.

But this can't be about those boys. They aren't here to support nor deny. This is about my perception and then subsequent reaction. After all, it was my hard-wiring, my experiences (or lack thereof) that informed me that three dark men, in dark clothing, on a darkened street could only mean trouble.

In this way, going back to my opening statement, I get George Zimmerman. I get the need to protect what is ours. I get the pang of fear that touches something primal inside, causing hyper-vigilance. And I get how difficult it is to feel safe with our media, our entertainment, our government routinely instilling fear, creating boogeymen out of passersby.

If we're honest with ourselves, the knee jerk Zimmerman felt towards the boy called Trayvon is understandable. It's a knee jerk we've all experienced.

In fact, we've all encountered Trayvon in our lives. And that's not to say Trayvon has to be black, or even male. Think of Trayvon as other. Someone who doesn't look or sound like we do. Someone whose beliefs may be different. Someone who intimidates and is even a little scary. Someone who talks a different rap, eats a different food, wears a different hat, dances a different jig. Think of who Trayvon is to you. Someone bigger perhaps, someone of the opposite sex, someone deeper-voiced, shriller, lighter, darker, more fanatically religious, more sexually permissive, more gregarious, more pensive, more, more, more... Someone more...

And to be fearful of Trayvon is human. The world is challenging at best, and being on our guard and withholding our trust is not necessarily a bad thing. I would even argue to discriminate against Trayvon in an unguarded, fleeting moment is human. We all come with tricky programming, and like the Avenue Q song clearly states, "Everyone's a Little Bit Racist." So, if Zimmerman had a racially profiled spasm of thought I could even let him off the hook for that...however, his actions didn't stop there.

Knee jerks are not reality. Knee jerks are impulses that do not necessarily need to be acted upon.

I want to kill that Asian motherfucker who just cut me off! 

Okay, racist brain fart, sure. Admit it to yourself, then move it out of the way to work on at a later moment. Next, weigh in with logic and calm to deduce whether killing the motherfucker is in anyone's best interest. (Hint...usually it isn't.)

Yes, I get how George Zimmerman was überaware of the lone youth on a rainy night. But can you imagine me in New York those many years ago, and this time I'm armed? My heart was pounding, my senses on high alert, my flight or fight mechanism wound so tightly. What if when those three youths spread out making it harder for me to pass, instead of a wallet in my pocket I felt a gun?

I think of my youthful ignorance. I think of how individual moments carried so much more weight. I think of my lack of judgement and my impetuousness. Could that night have ended differently?

Quite possibly.

***

People of color, this last bit isn't for you, although feel free to read along if you feel so inclined.

White people, we have got to take the reins in repairing race relations. After all, it's our Eurocentric culture that routinely raped, murdered and enslaved those of a darker hue.

So, stop whining about how we aren't allowed to use the N word, and can't plan that plantation-themed wedding we always wanted! (Paula Deen, I'm ashamed of you!) And for the love of a Hostess Twinkie, stop insisting that Cracker is in any way, shape or form pejorative...it's a snack not an epithet. Bottom line, white people, I find your poor me attitude embarrassing.

Now, admit it, we've had a good run. But just like the only child whose mother gets pregnant, we need to move over and make room for all our brothers and sisters. It's true you won't be given as much attention, and your shit will probably stink a little bit more, but its what we as humans must do.

And here's a tip: when you next approach someone with darker skin, try not to grimace, clutch your bag tighter, or reach for your gun. Try eye contact, with a smile and see how you are received.

TRAYVON MARTIN
b. February 5, 1995
d. February 26, 2012



5 comments:

Michelle said...

Brilliant, honest and just the conversations we need to have with ourselves and each other.

www.DiatribesAndOvations.com said...

Beautifully thought out and magnificently stated. Everyone should read this and, more importantly, think about it.

Anonymous said...

Nice work Hutch. That case should have never made the main stream media. It wasn't about race, the press made it about that...sad. Racial tensions have grown in the last few years, why is that? In Florida 1989, Ft. Pierce I did exactly as you said to do. To two African American teenage kids and even said in a happy voice(I had no reason to not like anyone, I'm not racist),"Hey Guys, How's it going?" Apparently not well, I was robbed at gun point with the keys to my home, car, hotel room,etc taken and my valuables stolen.Then they wanted to go to the hotel room...long ugly story! Yep, treating people with respect worked great, they didn't kill me! To this day I know it's not about race, it's about the content of your character, those boys had lousy character....and happened to be black. White(or hispanic,asian) thugs could have done the same thing. 500 black kids are gunned down every year in Chicago by other black kids...where's the outrage in that? It doesn't matter what race you are, if you're in Chicago in the wrong area at the wrong time, you should be scared... The fact that our President isn't talking about that, but instead Martin/Zimmerman? It makes no sense.. Crazy world!

Anonymous said...

We might have all encountered Trayvon. But not when we were armed, and have multiple opportunities to AVOID a confrontation, the way Zimmerman did.
Let me put it this way, when interracial crimes occur, the motives can mostly be opportunity and that young males in our society are so disaffected and use violence in response to conflict.
After all, the most publicized MASS shootings were all done by white males. And with assault weapons.
The problem with discussion interracial violence or even hate motivated violence, is leaving the issue between the perp and victim.
When that bias can go right up the entire chain of adjudication.
Zimmerman didn't have to have as much RACIAL bias in himself to walk on this crime.
But the police, the investigators and those whose job it is to assure justice can ALSO be very biased.
To me, Zimmerman was a cop, Dirty Harry wannabe who used Trayvon as an opportunity to shoot SOMEBODY.
1. Zimmerman was NOT OFFICIALLY any kind of neighborhood patrol with identifying clothing or vehicle.
2. He was alone.
3. And he was armed. This is in defiance of ALL protocols for a neighborhood safety patrol precisely so you don't get into the trouble Zimmerman found himself in.
4. Zimmerman did NOT observe TM doing anything suspicious at all. The boy wasn't looting a car, wasn't tagging anything, wasn't committing an act of vandalism or break in. Therefore, Zimmerman had no business FOLLOWING him at all unless he'd seen any of that.
5. Considering how Zimmerman himself looks, why wouldn't TM take Zimmerman for the creep he DID think he was?
6. Zimmerman didn't warn the boy or give him a chance to retreat. Nor did Zimmerman himself retreat.
But unlike the young black kids who HAVE committed crimes, they aren't going to walk.
They can't follow someone and shoot them when they find themselves outclassed and then claim self defense.
And the isolation of blacks into sections that define their status and keeps them in a separate economic struggle. These are GENERATIONAL struggles that go back to BEFORE the Civil Rights Act was signed and can and does affect people now.
The same way privilege has benefited generations of whites.
Blacks have no skin privileges that allows them easy access to ANY neighborhood, without suspicion.
Just as exactly what happened to TM.
Pointing fingers at the horrible rates of violence between blacks is not helping when no one is honest about the root of it.
White on white violence is different, and there is less of it, but then, it's clear who has more value in society and when you're valued, why would you be so angry and take it out on anyone at all?

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