Home > Psychology, Philosophy, and Other Deep Thoughts > The Words Said For Trayvon

The Words Said For Trayvon

This isn’t what I usually talk about in this blog, but it needs to be said.


There’s something wrong here. We’ve gotten away from the main point.

This happens over and over again. A member of a minority/disenfranchised/marginalized group gets shot. Or arrested. Or harassed. Or refused medical treatment. Often, severe damage is done to them. All too often, it ends in their death. It is, fundamentally and above all else, a tragedy.

Members of that group– black, or disabled, or Muslim, or LGBT, or female– write about it. They and their allies express pain, fear, bitterness, anger, sarcasm, snark, and resignation. They say “not again!” and “yeah, but what can you expect?” They’ve seen it too many times, and still it cuts too deeply every time.

Some people use hyperbole. Some people draw comparisons or give examples that are not accurate. People write things in emotional moments and don’t fact-check them. And debates begin. Generally among people who don’t belong to the group in question.

Was it legal? Did it make sense? Can’t you see why Zimmerman followed Martin, why Ashley X’s parents wanted to keep her small and easy to care for, why the cop misunderstood the person having a panic attack to be dangerous? People give counter-examples and statistics. They make excuses. The victim made mistakes that contributed to their fate. People point out cases where a straight white christian male had the same thing happen to them. There is a great deal of “yes, but” and “if only” and “this wasn’t actually about race/gender/disability” and “it could have happened to anyone, you know.”

And we get away from the main point, which is that a tragedy has occurred, and that tragedies of that nature disproportionately affect certain groups of people. Someone¬† is DEAD… maybe because of a specific misunderstanding or prejudice or systemic injustice, and maybe simply because they made a mistake, or lost their temper, or were hard for someone else to deal with.

Here is what I know about the effect the Martin/Zimmerman case has had on my black friends. It has made them sad. It has made them angry. But most of all, it has reinforced their understanding that they have reason to live in fear.

Ultimately, it doesn’t make a difference that Zimmerman’s attorney never mentioned “stand your ground” or that “not guilty” isn’t actually the same thing as being told you made the right decision. It isn’t about whether Trayvon Martin (or Henry Louis Gates or Christopher Beatty) should have acted differently, or whether we can understand why Zimmerman did what he did.

It’s about being a member of a group of people who live with the constant knowledge that a bad day or a bad decision may someday cost them their life.

I am a small, white, not-visibly-disabled, educated, cis-woman currently dating a man. If I am in a bad temper and glare at a stranger…
…if I have a panic attack and scream something strange…
…or run away from a situation…
…if I show affection to the person I love in public…
…if I accidentally leave a store without paying for something…
…if I space out and wander onto someone else’s property…
…if I get drunk and act rude or stupid or even do something truly obnoxious like using someone’s yard as a bathroom…
…if I loiter outside a building out of boredom or while waiting for a friend…
…if I make a bad choice about where to hang out or who to talk to or look at or even if I insult someone or flip them off…
…if I happen to be in a bad mood when a cop pulls me over for speeding and I am slightly surly with him or her…
That mistake I make is unlikely to escalate to physical conflict. It is unlikely to end in my arrest, and even less likely to end in my death.

This is not true for many other people, particularly those who belong to an easily identifiable minority group. It is not true for the man I love. It will not be true for two beautiful girls I babysit when they grow up. It may not be true for any of the children I babysit when they grow up.

And that is what goes through the mind of black people when they hear that Zimmerman was found not guilty. “If I am careless… if I make a mistake… if I have a bad day… if I scare someone by accident or by how I look or because I’m not paying attention or because I get pissed off like any other human being… I may be killed for it. And the public will not mourn my passing. My killer may not even be held accountable for my death. Instead, people will bicker over whether or not my death was due to racism or to my own momentary stupidity. And either way, I will be dead.”

Can you imagine what having that thought-bubble hanging over your head every day can do to a person? Can you understand the bitterness, the despair, the dread, the psychological torture of living with those thoughts? The weight of having to constantly walk a straight and narrow line in the desperate hopes that it will buy you safety? The pain of knowing that your best efforts– to be ever polite and nonthreatening– may not be enough? The anger of feeling constantly watched, of never getting to simply relax in public and be your own unguarded self because you know that your actions reflect not only on you but on everyone else who looks like you or shares your demographic label? The fury and anguish of knowing that no matter how hard you try, some people will always believe the worst of you simply because of who you were born as, and worst of all, you probably won’t even know who those people are until it’s too late?

So don’t argue with me over the legal details of the case. I’m happy to be corrected about errors I make and misconceptions I have, but nothing changes the fact that this incident gave Black mothers in America one more reason to fear that their sons will not come home some night. And there is NO appropriate response to that other than to grieve.

  1. July 24, 2013 at 8:27 pm

    Your post is well-written but I don’t necessarily agree with everything said.


    • July 28, 2013 at 12:09 am

      What specifically did you disagree with?

      I’ll grant that this post is somewhat narrowly focused: it was a direct response to the disparity I saw in how my white and black friends reacted, emotionally, to the case.


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