Saturday, July 13, 2013

Thank You, Trayvon (Race & the Dehumanization of Black and Latino Men)

 About an hour ago, the jury began deliberating for the first full day on the trial of George Zimmerman, who shot and killed 17-year-old Trayvon Martin on the night of February 26, 2012, as he was walking to his father's house from purchasing Skittles and an iced tea.

Without going into the details of an altercation that I was not there to witness, I will state the obvious effects that have lasted since this event became national news: protests and marches, people donning hoodies and declaring, "I am Trayvon", President Obama stating that, "If I had a son, he would look like Trayvon", people defending Zimmerman on the basis of a "Stand Your Ground" law that I am not sure really relates to this particular incident, people bringing up Martin's decisions pre-incident, and racial discussions that didn't go past the surface racial discourse we usually allow in this country.

We talk about race as if it were a real thing.  ALL people look different, except for identical siblings.  I am a caramel colored brown, but there are people in my family who are lighter, and some who are darker.  Race is a social construct, and, especially in American society, race has been a method of discriminating, segregating, and maintaining privilege for an elite few.  This is an aspect of capitalism and social darwinism that is almost impossible to overcome.  And if race isn't made an issue, class is the issue, poverty is the issue, gender is the issue. Something will be an issue, because, especially in a time of recession and economic struggle, people want to keep what is theirs, and do not want to share the wealth.  The United States, as it was founded, was based on just a few obtaining the privileges of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

Did George Zimmerman kill Trayvon Martin because he was Black?  Did he kill him because he (Zimmerman) feared for his life?  Or did Zimmerman pursue and eventually kill Trayvon Martin because he didn't think of him as a human being, but as an a**hole, one of "those" who "always get away"?

I think the main problem we have in a society where Black and Latino men are pursued, beaten, stopped and frisked, and murdered constantly, sometimes by each other, many times by people in authority, is that we have stopped looking at Black and Latino men as human beings.  They are "animals", "savages", "thugs", "a**holes"; or, on the other hand, "athletes", "sponsors", or "hip hop moguls".  We either treat them like they're not human because they're sub-human, or we treat them as banks and use them for their talents and abilities, then throw them away when we have no use for them.

Believe me, all human beings are capable of poor decision-making, and I'm not excusing the bad behavior of some Black and Latino men.  What I am saying is that, as a society, it has become okay to say that a Black or Latino man should know how to comply with police officers, that they shouldn't wear what they wear, walk around at night, drive nice cars, or have human emotions or reactions.  We don't allow Black and Latino men to be HUMAN, and this is not a new thing.  Racism began as a way to maintain free labor, and in order to use and abuse people in the way slavery did (and still does), dehumanization is essential.

In not allowing the term "racial profiling" to be used in the courtroom, the judge in the George Zimmerman trial gave the prosecution and the defense an opportunity to portray Trayvon Martin as a human being, with both good and bad aspects of his humanity.  In seeing Trayvon Martin as a human being, we can see him as he really was on the night of his death: a 17-year-old boy minding his own business, doing everyday things we all take for granted, armed with snacks, who was murdered by someone who refused to treat him as a human being.

Trayvon Martin's parents don't care that he was Black.  He was their son.  His friends, I'm sure, didn't care that he was Black.  He was their friend.  His brother didn't care that he was Black.  He was his brother.  He was a PERSON, walking down the street, protecting himself from the rain with his hoodie, coming back from the store with a snack, talking on his cell phone with his friend.  He was not expecting that taking these normal, human actions would result in an altercation that led to his death.  No matter what the jury decides, we have moved beyond Trayvon as an "a**hole who always gets away", to someone's son, brother, and friend.

We all walk, talk, and go to and from the store every day, yet some of us have to worry more than others that those simple actions could lead to our deaths.  For some people, knowing what Trayvon Martin did that night as a HUMAN BEING doing what HUMAN BEINGS do might help them to understand that race makes a difference in the outcomes of people's actions.  However, more importantly, it might help them to understand that Black and Latino men, like Trayvon Martin, are human beings, not animals, or savages, or a**holes, who deserve to live a life free of worry about whether they will be able to see their loved ones once more when they go out at night.

Thank you, Trayvon.  We didn't know you, but you remind us that we, as a society, need to move beyond the dehumanization of anyone in this society, and to look upon everyone as human beings with equal right to live and pursue happiness in this place we call America.

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