I have tried to stay away from any and all forms of media today.
I cannot stake a claim to this experience. As a white woman, I do not know anything about being on the receiving end of racially-based injustice. I have never been discriminated against based on the color of my skin. No one has ever locked their doors when they’re riding through my neighborhood. No one grimaces at the off-chance that they will touch my hand in the exchange of pennies and quarters for a cup of coffee. I am innocent until proven guilty: I am Mayella Ewell, who will live to pick up the pieces of a busted chiffarobe. There are people who will fight for me because of where I live, what I look like, and who my parents are. I am cloaked in privilege, often blindfolded by my own blonde hair, pale skin, and zip code.
However, I will claim this sadness, and fury, and confusion and injustice. I can’t help but feel heavy when I scroll down the timelines of my social media accounts. I am haunted by the ignorance that surrounds me: “Racism is over in America- we have a black president,” “Zimmerman was Latino, so this can’t be about racial injustice,” “Trayvon Martin was armed,” with people citing the street that he walked on as a weapon easily at his disposal.” These ideologies are a threat to our ability to coexist. They threaten and challenge notions of progress that we, as Americans, and myself as a self-identified female Democrat, have come accustomed to believe. We have got to stop shielding ourselves with the notion that we live in a color-blind society where race doesn’t matter- where we are all humans. That is an idealized version of our reality. To not acknowledge race is to inherently devalue the cultural and racial experiences of masses of people. To put everyone on a racially blind playing field, whether in our courts, our schools, or our neighborhoods, fails to recognize our past and our present- a place where we are still making provisions to keep certain people from voting, a place where blood dots the leaves. Further, to not acknowledge that race plays a role in the George Zimmerman trial is to ignore the history of injustice and hatred that paints the current schema of our nation, our legal system, and the mindsets of many of our parents, our grandparents, and ourselves.
We are threatened by those things which we can’t (or refuse to) understand. George Zimmerman felt threatened when he saw seventeen year old Trayvon Martin walking through a gated neighborhood on a rainy night. He felt threatened because he believed Martin to be ‘out of place.’ I am not doubting the presence of his emotions- Zimmerman may very well have felt threatened, but we have to dismantle the baggage surrounding this threat. Why was he threatened by a boy- an African American boy in a hoodie- who was walking home at night? His mindset, like hundreds of thousands of people, even the most informed and accepting people in our country and our world, was skewed by his schema for order and justice, a schema that works consistently and systematically against people of color.
He was threatened because Zimmerman, like so many people, has learned to operate within the realms of a society that is fueled by the ideology of white supremacy. Though he identifies as ‘Hispanic,’ Zimmerman possesses passing privilege, which many people have pointed to as justification for his acquittal. However, I read a blog today that helped to provide me with some degree of explanation and clarity: When Zimmerman was acquitted, it wasn’t because he’s a so-called white Hispanic. He’s not. It’s because he abides by the logic of white supremacy, and was supported by a defense team—and a swath of society—that supports the lingering idea that some black men must occasionally be killed with impunity in order to keep society-at-large safe” (The Nation Magazine). We must work to physically and mentally dismantle the white supremacy that governs our mindsets, our actions, and our legal system.
Last night, my friends and I were trying to process the trial and the verdict. Being in Memphis this summer, I have been inundated in the history of Civil Rights in this country. I have walked on the balcony of the Lorraine Motel where the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. spent his last moments. I have walked down Beale Street where sanitation workers striked for their right to an equal wage. I am still haunted by my memories of last summer riding over the West Tallahatchie River and feeling the presence of Emmett Till surround me. I am humbled and outraged by the words of one of the most genuine and kind people I have ever met here in Memphis: “I am Trayvon. I have to walk outside every day, wondering if I were killed, would my mother’s tears even mean anything? Or would I just be another dead black man?”
I am infuriated and I am sad. I weep for our country, and I pray for understanding. I pray for the people of this world that will never understand why this verdict is wrong, and I pray for understanding for myself- a white woman who will never own the pain and injustice that can often come with being a person of color in this country.
I will however, stake a claim to peace and progress. I claim my role as a witness for the good in this world. I will stake a claim to the power of my own voice and my mind. I will be a vessel for peace and equality. I will power my sails with love for my brothers and sisters, and fellow children of God. I stake a claim to a better world in 100 years- the world Dr. King envisioned. I will claim love unabashedly and without shame. I will dismantle hate with my vision, and I will use my vision to create the world in which I want to live- where I want my children and their children to live.
I am claiming peace and progress. I am standing my ground.