A year ago, when George Zimmerman was unjustly acquitted for the murder of Trayvon Martin, I wanted to believe that this would be a moment that would wake the country up from its post-racial stupor. For me, as a black male, and for many other black people in this country, the injustice of this case was obvious. A black boy had been stalked and accosted for no other reason than that he appeared “suspicious” by virtue of his attire. Being deemed “suspicious,” cost him his life. This, for me, was text book racial profiling and was undeniable.
But we live in a country where the public denial of race and racial disparity is en vogue. The denial of race is a tool of white supremacy to ensure that any dialogue about race gets stigmatized. Accordingly, during the Trayvon Martin trial itself, 52% of Americans, felt that race garnered too much attention during the trial. Instead of Trayvon’s murder being a moment of reconciliation and truth-telling, what I soon rediscovered was that the truth seems to be a mute point in the country. Even a year later, acknowledging white supremacy still seems to be a burden for many Americans, with 63% of the public believing that black people are responsible for our own condition. Despite the overwhelming structural and institutional disparities in almost every facet of our society, many Americans still choose to believe that black folks are just too lazy, too violent, and too pathological to get ahead. Rather than thinking that that their beloved country is flawed from its core.
What we must realize is that racism in America is in dire need of collective honesty about the reality of our racist history. The Trayvon moment should have been an opportunity for America to be honest with itself. Instead, the case turned into a media circuit where partisan divides were only crystallized. On the one year-anniversary of the Zimmerman verdict, what America needs is a great cultural sweep in its acceptance of white supremacy. Culturally, we have to recognize that we are a white supremacist country with a white supremacist legacy, and that legacy has damaged the fabric of our country. When a black boy or black girl is unjustly gunned down and deemed suspicious merely because of their attire, I would want to say that I live in a country that began to ask itself some hard questions. If I could imagine, if only briefly, politicians and policymakers uttering the words “We live in a country that has systematically sought to destroy the humanity of black people. We must rectify this, and we cannot allow the erasure of black children in the streets.”
But alas, such has not been the case. Getting this country to accept that it has still has a white supremacy problem is like pushing a boulder up a steep hill.
But Trayvon’s death has not been in vain. Since the verdict, we have seen some flawed, but at least symbolically important moves towards changing how this country criminalizes black bodies. For example, New York’s Stop and Frisk law has been declared unconstitutional, and the Obama administration has made a series of moves towards ending mass incarceration over minor drug offenses. These moves include the controversial My Brother’s Keeper initiative aimed at improving the lives of black boys. Furthermore, the Zimmerman verdict ignited the fires of black youth activists around the country, including the Dream Defenders and the Black Youth Project 100. I can scarcely imagine any of this happening without Trayvon Martin.
Still, the miracle of these occurrences is that they are happening while many folks in this country still believe ardently that white supremacy and racism no longer exists. This is both amazing and yet disconcerting. For as our currently reality shows us, laws can change, they can become more progressive, more just, but laws can be undone. So if the heart of this nation—that is, the public collective consciousness of this nation—cannot admit we have a problem, then we will continue to have many fights ahead. And there will continue to be more Trayvon Martins.
As always, much love and peace to Trayvon’s family, and the many other black children whose names and injustices go unnoticed.