On Martin and Till


Blog followers, I have let you down. I’ve known about the Trayvon Martin story for weeks now. And yet, I’ve said nothing. I’ve let others – more qualified, I told myself – pick up the slack. I thought, “I’ll let them handle it because I don’t think they need another white person co-opting their issue.”

And I am deeply, deeply ashamed of myself, for thinking this is an issue that doesn’t affect me, for letting my white privilege keep my mouth shut. I have failed you and I have failed myself.

Because this isn’t a minority issue. Because this isn’t something that “I’m not qualified to comment on because I’m white.” Thinking so divides the issue among racial lines, again. This is an issue that affects all of us, in all kinds of communities, all across the country. It about a system in which we are all complicit. And I’m sorry that I let this issue slide, for whatever unjustifiable reason.

I knew Trayon Martin’s death was and is a big deal, a huge event – this is the Emmett Till of my generation.

But because I am a white woman who does not plan on having children, I somehow thought that I could stay silent on the issue; let those other voices handle it.

This last Sunday, one of the women I consider a friend was at the playground with her child. She was called a name I can’t even bear to put on here censored. This happened in front of her daughter, in front of her husband.

And as I got angry about it, I realized that it is something I have never had to worry about.

On February 26th, Trayvon Martin was walking back to his father fiancée’s house with a pack of skittles and an Arizona Iced Tea when he was chased and shot by the head of the local neighborhood watch. For being “suspicious.” For being black in a mostly white neighborhood.

That’s something I will likely never have to worry about if I choose to have children.

When I was a kid, I remember spending most of my waking hours running around the neighborhood, climbing neighbor’s fences, and generally being a nuisance. In middle school, I walked to and from school every day, and never once had to worry about my own safety, at least not on the basis of my race. Because this was South Dakota and I looked just like all of my neighbors.

I could wear what I wanted growing up because I never had to worry about being seen as “thug” or “suspicious.”

At the church camp I attended in the Black Hills during high school, we would take one night during the week and travel to the small town of Keystone and look around all the tourist-y shops. We had one black guy in our youth group. One summer, a lady at one of the shops called the police on him because she was convinced that he’d shoplifted from her store. Of course, he hadn’t, but she banned him from her store nonetheless.

I’ve never had to worry about that.

My children, should I suddenly reverse my thinking and decide to have them, won’t have to worry about being pulled over by the police because they’re black (unless, of course, they are mixed race). They won’t have to explain their presence in a neighborhood of people who don’t look like them. And they will be able to wear a hoodie at night and go to the convenience store to buy Skittles and Iced Tea without worrying about being shot.

But their friends won’t. My friends’ children won’t.

My parents’ generation grew up with the reality of Emmett Till. In 1955, Till was a fourteen year old boy visiting relatives in Mississippi (much like Trayvon was visiting his father’s place in Florida). Till supposedly whistled at a white woman who was the wife of the owner of the local store. I say supposedly because no one really knows – it may have even just been a conversation as simple as “what time is it?”

The problem was that he was a black boy who dared say something – anything – to a white woman.

Till’s body was found a week later in the local river, weighted down by a seventy pound cotton-gin fan tied around his neck with barbed wire. He was severely beaten, one of his eyes gouged out; he was shot in the head and tossed in the river. He was beaten to the point of being unrecognizable.

The men who killed him were acquitted.

In 2012, Trayvon Martin was gunned down for being “suspicious” by George Zimmerman, a white/Latino neighborhood watch captain. No tox-screen was performed by the local police. Witnesses were actually corrected in their statements. Zimmerman claimed self-defense, and the police believed him – because the word of a white man with a gun took precedence over a dead, unarmed, black boy.

It is now a month later, and Trayvon Martin’s killer is still free. A month later, and the police are still trying to defend their actions, despite a clearly bungled investigation and 911 calls indicating that Zimmerman, in fact, was the aggressor and therefore was not defending himself.

And yet, this is the first time I have said anything. This is the first post that even mentions him. And for that, I’m sorry. To the Trayvon Martins of the world: I am deeply ashamed that I participate in a system that, by my silence, allows your killer to walk away a free man.

No more. If I am called to speak against injustice, I must speak against ALL injustice. I must not allow myself to be resigned hopelessly to a system in which my friend’s child could one day be murdered or raped or hurt simply because she is black.

I want my children to have friends who do not look like them. I want my child’s friends to be able to walk home at night without having to worry about being jumped and shot. I want all children to be able to walk to the store without fear. I do not want them to get to the age I am now and be writing about “The Trayvon Martin of my generation.”

I stand with Trayvon Martin. We all are standing with him.