- Racial Equity
- Talk About Race
By Tristan Wilkerson,
My youngest brother turned 19 yesterday. He is young, athletic, smart, respectful, charming, and a joy to be around – much like how those who knew Trayvon Martin would describe him. He loves basketball and is pretty darn good at it. But equally he enjoys the sciences of the mind which has led him to undertake and excel in studies of psychology as an undergraduate. A stellar student-athlete, my youngest brother’s name is Tre’Von (pronounced: Tray-Von). He is also black. Why the color of his skin even matters remains a mystery that has lurked among us far too long and continues to haunt our black males. I cannot fathom not having the opportunity to watch him grow and excel and explore the freedoms this country has promised him; the freedoms our forefathers and ancestors died to afford us, and the opportunity to accomplish our dreams of prosperity while contributing to ‘a more perfect union.’ Trayvon Martin is no different. He was our little brother. But what he was to achieve, what he was to accomplish, the lives he was to impact we will never know and because of what?
In the case of Trayvon Martin – the slain Florida teen who was shot and killed by George Zimmerman, a neighborhood watchman, in what he called “self-defense” – whether all of the evidence has emerged or not, we have to ask the tough questions about a skanky culture of racial antagonism that rears its ugly head in tragic incidents such as this. If you think the Trayvon Martin case was about skittles and iced tea, think again. Trayvon was black – and that makes all the difference in America.
If the truth were told, how often would incidents that have negative or disastrous outcomes involve racial motives of any sort? This one question could bear answers of an infinite number. Although we are still learning exactly what happened the night Trayvon died, we know from the details that have emerged, and lessons from the likes of Sean Bell and others that being black in America has negative consequences.
It is in these defamatory moments of criminalization that peer into glaring glimpses of racial terror that reigned through American politics and a divided nation during the 1960’s. Though, just as age is not necessarily an indication of maturity, I suppose the same can be said for our nation. Recent news cites a lone black teen in a Virginia high school English class was asked to read a Langston Hughes poem “blacker,” as if his being black wasn’t black enough. It’s 2012. I don’t get it. But when I try to understand it, I realize that America is still a young and vastly ignorant nation. It has only been just over 50 years since the landmark decision of Brown vs the Board of Education and subsequent desegregation of my alma mater, Little Rock Central High School. Yet that doesn’t justify the racially motivated abuse of our youth or excessive use of force against men of color. So, why are we so damn afraid of Black folk? Is it really even fear? These senseless acts can only be prescribed at the ignorance of those who are granted the authority to act. In the death of Trayvon Martin, George Zimmerman was not granted that authority, and the fact that he has yet to be charged remains an abomination. So we must grant ourselves the authority to act, and demand justice.
Why Zimmerman thought Martin was an “a**hole” who, “…always gets away,” is the music he must face. With nothing leading Zimmerman to believe that the unarmed Martin was actively seeking to harm him, and for him to admittedly pursue Martin is further a question that he must answer. This is what justice should be. If Zimmerman walks freely without facing these questions before a jury of his peers, how can we adequately protect our black youth from senseless acts of vigilante violence?
Common-sense Americans, with any type of moral fiber, will not continue to sit idly by while black men and boys continue to be targets of violence, profiling, prejudice, and hatred based purely on perception and racial timbre. I do not want to see our nation provoked into a divisive war on race. However, this nation has to view race issues as human rights issues. There no longer remains space for silence nor sensitivity. Let justice prevail before we forgive or forget the excessive use of force against any person, but especially the disproportionate use of force against black men and boys. Further, let us speak up and speak out toward the abuse of our children black, brown, or otherwise. Our kids deserve better. Trayvon Martin deserved better.
Tristan is a Congressional Staffer doubling as Coordinator of the DC Commission on Black Men and Boys.