Published on Mar 31, 2012
My thoughts on whiteness, privilege, and activism in the wake of Trayvon's murder.
I AM NOT TRAYVON MARTIN.
I AM NOT TROY DAVIS.
and to the middle class, white, socially concerned activist who wears a shirt emblazoned with those slogans, you are wrong.
I know you wear that shirt to stand in solidarity with Trayvon, Troy, and other victims of injustice. The purpose of those shirts is to humanize these victims of our society, by likening them to the middle class white activist wearing it. And once we've humanized the victims, this proves to us the arbitrariness of their deaths and thereby the injustice at play.
But the fact of the matter is that these men's deaths are anything but arbitrary. The fact that the real Troy Davis and Trayvon Martin and countless other victims of oppression are buried under 6 feet of cold dirt while we middle class white activists are alive, marching, and wearing their names is an indication that our societal system is working exactly as it's intended.
A more accurate t-shirt to display on my white body would be "I AM GEORGE ZIMMERMAN." Zimmerman and I were indoctrinated in the same American discourse where we learned that the "other," particularly black men like Trayvon and Troy, were less human and were to be feared. Society taught me that as a little white girl, I must preserve my purity and goodness, and that the presence of young single males threatened it. Society taught me that being in the presence of a BLACK man compounds that threat exponentially. I have been taught that male, black, bodies are an immediate threat to my safety and the well being of society as a whole, and Zimmerman was taught the same damn thing. We're all taught it.
I look at George Zimmerman and think, "there, but for the grace of god, go I." Had it not been for a decent education, intense critical thinking, and some truly excellent parenting, I would never have questioned the societal norms that Zimmerman and I were both taught, and I would have ended up feeling his attack on Trayvon was justified, just as he did, and the state of Florida does.
If we are to effect real change in the wake of Trayvon's murder, we have to realize this. Realizing that you more closely resemble a homicidal oppressive force than a helpless victim is a really uncomfortable thing to do. I know. But wanting to identify with the victim is weak, and immature when it is not an accurate representation of reality. Real change is effected when we own up to our actions, our privilege, and our complicity with the system that murdered Trayvon and countless others.
Us privileged activists have to realize just how easy it is to be Zimmerman, and work to change this. Subvert stereotypes. Make it harder for others to buy into the bullshit that we're fed our whole lives about race, class, gender, and other people by identifying and critiquing these messed up norms. Force adults to confront these norms, and raise children without indoctrinating them with the same old bullshit. Use your privilege to actively dismantle this messed up system. Listen to marginalized people like Trayvon's family and Troy's family and insure them access to the discourse. Listen to them, stand in solidarity with them. But do not, I repeat, DO NOT claim to be them.