I’ve been following the George Zimmerman trial pretty heavily and it’s horrifying for all the obvious reasons. Regardless of what the verdict is in this case will turn out to be, though, it has me thinking just one thing: I, too, along with so many other black men, have been Trayvon Martin at one point or another.
Being black, I have a small understanding at what it means to be Trayvon Martin. I have been pulled over for no other reason but for being black–once with my father in our own suburban neighborhood while looking at our neighbors Christmas lights. I have been interrogated by the police more times than I can count for no real justifiable reason. I have seen the fear in people’s eyes as we cross paths alone on a sidewalk late at night, and then watching them cross the street to avoid crossing paths with someone who looks like me. I have become used to speeding up as I walk behind people to get in front of them, a small gesture to show that I won’t rob them and they can have the upper hand knowing my back is turned to them. It sounds silly, but its a reality we don’t like to talk about. It’s the reality many black men have been trained to think, and many others don’t have to, because it’s a world they won’t ever have to know–a black world.
We black men know that the color of our skin transcends our actions, our behavior, educational attainment, and economic class–no matter the situation, we are always black first, and any other title comes second. At any moment we could be pulled over, arrested, beaten and even killed. Our examples of “when-being-black-goes-wrong” are not only Travyon Martin, but Oscar Grant, Rodney King, and so many more who have had the unlucky circumstances of being black at the wrong time and place.
In my own neighborhood, a UMass graduate and black male was maced and arrested.
As I sat in a coffee shop discussing the young black man being maced, a stranger happened to join the conversation. He seemed to be indifferent towards it all, almost siding with the police officer. “We don’t know exactly what he was doing or if he was attempting to attack the officer.”
I looked at him and said, “My man, I’m going to pose a hypothetical situation with you. You’re a cop, you have a gun, you’re alone, its 2am, and a large male approaches you–he’s black. I don’t want you to tell me what you would do–that’s for you to ponder, but that’s exactly what you should do–ponder.”
This is the reality that is omnipresent but rarely acknowledged. These other instances that I mentioned may not be as dramatized as what happened to Trayvon, but they expose something that too many people think but are ashamed to admit: their fear towards African-American males, and the violence that it can produce. Trayvon wasn’t the first, neither was Oscar Grant nor Rodney King. They were only an ongoing remembrance to black men on how their skin remains their most dangerous attribute, their worst enemy–their kryptonite.
Whether they are aware of it or not, every black man has been the victim to racial profiling on some level. Trayvon Martin was killed because of the color of his skin, every other detail about him came second. A white man with a red hoodie, bag of skittles, and questionable behavior would have been followed, but not murdered. And had George Zimmerman been black, and Treyvon white, it would not have taken the law 40 days to arrest him over second-degree murder.
I can’t predict what the outcome of this case will be, but regardless of the verdict, this an opportunity to not just point a finger at Zimmerman and demand justice; it’s a time to look to ourselves, acknowledge the prejudices we hold towards others and how far we are willing to go in the sake of our own ignorance.