“yesterday we learned that it’s okay to kill a black kid”

Last night after dinner my husband and I walked to J.P. Licks — the local ice cream shop, about a mile away — and we were able to return from that outing to our home unaccosted. This is one of the many privileges we enjoy as white people.

I had just settled into a chair in the living room to read when my phone buzzed with an alert from The New York Times: “George Zimmerman acquitted in killing of Trayvon Martin.” I yelped. I read the alert to my husband, who sighed and said, “I’m not surprised.” I abandoned my book for the night and begin to watch reaction to the verdict unfold on social media. (I don’t have TV, so I wasn’t able to watch anything live.)

I wasn’t alone in being upset. I know there are plenty of people who exulted in last night’s verdict, but thanks to the wonder of feed curation, I don’t have to know anything about them (except when someone, say, makes the unfortunate decision to retweet Ann Coulter).

The eternal optimist in me was surprised at the verdict. And then just as quickly, the realist in me was not. Other people who have followed the case more closely than I have written — and will write — better analyses of the trial: Andrew Cohen, for one, and Ta-Nehisi Coates, for another. As far as I can tell, the verdict was proof that our criminal justice system works exactly as it is designed to do: Maintain white privilege, power, and control. Mission accomplished. (And if you’re not convinced that is what it is supposed to do, I beg you to read Michelle Alexander’s The New Jim Crow.)

And from my limited perspective — and by the way, unless you were one of the six women on the jury, your perspective on this will always be limited — the verdict was probably basically right. Zimmerman was probably “not guilty” (in the strict legal sense) according to the law as written in Florida. And everything about that sucks.

Following are a few notes, in highly unparallel form, mostly directed at my fellow white people, based on the social media activity that I observed..

1. Yesterday was not “the day we all learned that it’s okay to kill a black kid” (or some variation on this melodramatic statement). Maybe yesterday was the day *you* learned that. But lots of folks, particularly people of color, already knew that. Have always known that. Because their lives have depended on their knowing that.

2. You are not Trayvon Martin. If you think that “we are all Trayvon Martin” — and you’re including white folks in that “we” — then you’re missing the point entirely. This situation does not happen to white kids.

2b. A corollary: Don’t wear a hoodie. Find another way to express solidarity. Start by calling people out on their racism. And when when you say something racist (and yes, you have and you will), own up to it without defensiveness, apologize for it, and work to make sure it doesn’t happen again.

3. This is not the time (and I actually think it’s never the time) to try to convince folks that not all white people are racist. That makes the conversation about you. It’s called derailing, and it is unhelpful. Destructive, even.

4. You don’t understand exactly what people of color are going through just because you’re Jewish, or disabled, or gay, or [insert minority to which you belong]. Nobody wins Oppression Olympics.

5. Banning Florida, and Texas, and North Carolina, and [state that has passed or upheld a law you find repugnant] is not the solution. You are sorely mistaken if you think that state-sanctioned racism doesn’t happen in blue states.

6. Vote in every election, advocate to change laws (and to prevent laws like Florida’s from being passed in your own state), and DON’T TRY TO GET OUT OF JURY DUTY.

As I went to bed last night — and slept fitfully — I wondered how Tracy Martin and Sybrina Fulton could bear this. But I quickly realized that I’m not able to go there, not least because I’m not a parent. Whatever children I might have won’t be at risk of being shot as they walk through whatever neighborhood we might live in.

As the brilliant Audre Lorde wrote in Age, Race, Class, and Sex: Women Redefining Difference (h/t Blue Milk):

Some problems we share as women, some we do not. You fear your children will grow up to join the patriarchy and testify against you; we fear our children will be dragged from a car and shot down in the street, and you will turn your backs on the reasons they are dying.

Comments

  1. Thanks very much

  2. While I agree with many of your points, I am still in a mental space where I am so hurt, I will probably not be able to properly share all of what I feel. Being the sister of a young man who is probably a bit more radical than I believe Trayvon was (if at all), I hurt knowing that that could have very well been my brother. As an African American woman in an interracial relationship, I am now faced with thoughts and conversations that my future children will somehow “have it easy” based on that fact. Regarding points 1-6, I could not have said them better myself. I am just terribly saddened at the justice system that sends an African American athlete to jail for 2 years for allowing dogs to fight, or giving jail time to another African American male for carrying a gun and accidentally shooting himself. How about the African American woman involved in a domestic violence dispute who fired warning shots to frighten her abuser and was sentenced to jail. As a Christian, I have also had my faith and beliefs questioned (which could be an entire blog post in itself). Ultimately, I will end my comment with the fact that I still have no faith in the US justice system. People of color will never benefit from doing so, based solely on the fact that the system was never intended to benefit or protect us in the first place.

    Thanks for creating another space to share thoughts about the issue. At the end of the day, we are all left wondering what now, deciding to follow up on actions that will truly result in change. To your list, I must add that I need my people to exercise more self-respect and respect for others. While this situation is horrendous, we as African Americans need to be just as passionate and vocal about the black-on-black crime in 1,000s of communities around the country.

    • Ahesha, thanks for reading and for your thoughtful and poignant reply. I think this verdict has challenged many of us in difficult and unexpected ways (I especially resonate with questioning of religious beliefs).

  3. Very good points, all of them. Thank you.

  4. Absolutely amazing.

    **starts slow clap**

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  1. […] “yesterday we learned that it’s okay to kill a black kid”: A painful reflection I wrote the morning after George Zimmerman was acquitted of the murder of […]

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