welcome to post racial america: on trayvon martin and legalized lynching

hi internet! its been awhile… i’ve been off in my own little world for a bit, but that damned senior project is long since up and now i need to write again. and theres certainly no dearth of massively fucked up shit happening right now….

by now, the story of trayvon martin is in the national spotlight. The 17 year old black kid was unarmed, carrying nothing but a bag of skittles and an iced tea, walking to his stepmother’s house in a suburban neighborhood of sanford, FL, when he was shot and killed. the shooter was a neighborhood watchmen named george zimmerman, a latino man nearly 100lbs larger than trayvon and armed with a handgun. zimmerman has a well documented history of racial profiling and is a frequent caller to the police — 46 times since jan 1, 2011 — often reporting young, black men. since of course being black and wearing a hoodie is a crime waiting to happen, zimmerman deemed trayvon a threat and decided to tail him. he even called the police to report trayvon for “looking suspicious,” (becuase he was “wearing a hoodie and walking slowly in the rain”). the dispatcher told zimmerman to wait in his car and leave martin alone. during the call, zimmerman reportedly muttered “they always get away,” and “fucking coons” – later changed to “fucking goons.” the details remain unclear and suspect, and eyewitness testimony has been changing/getting changed. what is clear is that at some point, zimmerman, disobeying the dispatcher’s orders, continued to follow trayvon on foot until he approached him and forced a confrontation. orginial eyewitness statements say they hear trayvon screaming for help, though the police insist it was actually zimmerman. the shooter claimed self-defense under florida’s “stand your ground law,” scary ass legislation which gives people the right to use lethal force to protect themselves outside of their home if they feel sufficiently threatened, even when the option to safely retreat is available. (that link has an excellent map for seeing which states have such laws in place). as of yet, zimmerman has yet to be charged with anything, police citing “lack of evidence.”

“Apparently an unarmed, dead Black teen is not evidence enough.  If this were 1912 and not 2012, we would call a Black man killed by a one-man firing squad with no just cause what it is: a lynching. These days, we search for euphemisms. Self-defense. That feels so inadequate…

What is this peculiar thing about whiteness that it makes criminals look like victims and victims look like criminals? Trayvon’s skin, not his actions, not his character, made him a criminal. Blackness always looks suspicious. Whiteness always looks safe…

In 1857, Justice Roger Taney infamously declared in the Dred Scott case that “a Black man had no rights that a white man was bound to respect.” In this post- most-racial moment, we must seriously re-evaluate this narrative of linear historical progress that we are beholden to. No, Black men don’t routinely find themselves hanging from trees. But that might be less an evidence of progress and more an evidence of white racial adaptation.”       –CFC  (emphasis mine)

the murder of trayvon martin has sparked national outrage. from stupid hoaxes to professional sport players showing solidarity, to marches planned accross the nation. even president obama briefly weighed in, stating “if i had a son, he’d look like trayvon.” of course, being obama he couldn’t say anything definitive or godforbid mention race directly (this is an election year after all), but by saying what he did about the looks of his own hypothetical son, the president implied he knew damn well this was a racist killing.

and how has the media responded? at first, it was surprisingly positive. major networks rallied around this tragedy, amplified community voices for zimmerman’s prosecution, and opened up a space for speaking about racial profiling and the different value society assigns to black and brown lives.

and then the racist right woke up, and found it had computers, and the campaign to smear trayvon as a truant-prone drug using aspiring thug that somehow deserved to be murdered was off and running. white supremacists hacked trayvons email and social networking identities as part of this effort, widely trumpeting that trayvon was suspended from school, caught with “marijuana residue” and once wrote “WTF” on a school wall (scandalous! its almost like he was in high school or something!). oh, and there was a facebook photo of the wrong trayvon martin circulating, in addition to one of the trayvon martin zimmerman murdered, showing him smiling into the camera with a gold grill in his mouth, presumably disseminated to make sure everyone at home knows just how threatening this “Gangsta” really was.

because all of that really matters. because even if trayvon was the drug addicted high school dropout gang member fill-in-your-favorite stereotype of deviant black youth the racist right would have you believe, it doesn’t even come close to justifying a cold blooded murder (what would??).

and this is about more than just trayvon — hes the face of this right now, and thats not accidental. martin, in his death anyway, is lucky enough to have an image that people are willing to rally behind. not everyone does, and they’re still getting killed. this is about more than racist killings, even, but about what it means to live in a society where some are deemed “normal” “insiders” and “safe,” while others are deemed just that – Other, foreign, different. and when different can so often mean threatening, and in 22 states, “threatening” can get you shot, this raises serious issues not only for black folks and PoC in general, but for trans and other gender nonconforming people as well.

for trayvon, oscar grant, sean bell, and the many other young black men –boys, many of them — executed by our white supremacist state or its self styled vigilantes like zimmerman, all it took was their skin color. (funny how we are so quick to ascribe adulthood to black folks; were a white 17 year old the victim of a horrific murder, the media would almost certainly refer to him as a “boy.”) their murders need only to be followed up by racist smear campaigns and blame-the-victim fox news segments, and the new narrative is all too perfect. Geraldo declares, “I think the hoodie was as much responsible for Trayvon Martin’s death as George Zimmerman was.” for. fucking. serious. the victim-blaming language used here – as others have pointed out – is frighteningly reminiscent of the messages our culture sends to survivors of sexual assault — “YOU made the wrong clothing choices, YOU were in the wrong place. you were asking for it.” also Geraldo, not that any of your points are valid, but c’mon, at least get your facts straight. “wear hoodies only when its raining!” he says at the end of the clip. newsflash, mr. newsman — IT WAS FUCKING RAINING THE NIGHT TRAYVON WAS KILLED.

theres no good way to end talking about the racially motivated murder of a teenager. and i don’t know that there should be. but since i cant bring myself to actually embed fox’s nauseating clip here (its hyperlinked above), i’ll let this sum up geraldo/the right’s fucked up framing:

5 responses to “welcome to post racial america: on trayvon martin and legalized lynching

  1. I like the cartoon.As for the story I think all sides need to calm down and let the law do its business.

    • i agree, a thorough investigation absolutely needs to take place –as it should have from the beginning, for instance with zimmerman simply being asked to recount the story rather than being questioned first (questions can be quite leading), as well as undergo sobriety testing at the scene. none of this was done. its also curious that despite his claims to injury, he went to the police station and was questioned without ever receiving any medical attention for his alleged injuries – injuries one would assume to be quite serious if they led him to fear for his life and KILL someone.

      however, if “the law doing it’s business” means hiding behind the “stand your ground” law (which really shouldn’t even apply to zimmerman cause the dude was fucking pursuing martin), then fuck that.

      anyway, as for both sides calming down, it seems a bit insensitive — to say the very least — to ask a family and community grieving for their 17 year old boy who was murdered for the crime of walking while black in a gated community (oh, and wearing a hoodie. can’t forget the hoodie.) while his killer is sittin pretty, still in legal possession of the gun he used to murder the kid.

  2. Pingback: welcome to post racial america, pt 2: the hunger games and the value of black life | writing to transgress

  3. Pingback: intermission, part 3(blurred days) | writing to transgress

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