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Trayvon Martin and Racial Politics Reconstruct Themselves Again

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How the Trayvon Martin Case has Polarized the Nation

Stand Your Ground and Racial Politics Under Review

Trayvon Martin. Photo Courtesy of Business InsiderThe case of Trayvon Martin triggers within our hearts a difficult place in which our hearts go out to the parents of the dead seventeen year old, and try to find answers within such a limiting space. Florida’s laws are mainly to blame for the situation at hand in which a man who murdered an unarmed boy is free to walk. But the very language of the “Stand Your Ground” law is based on the same method of thought that provokes our reactions, in which if we feel threatened we are allowed to shoot. Our reactionary responses to such incidents provoke us to scream like bloody hell for change, and we lose track of the sense of community that we actually desire, our defense mechanism becoming a weapon, which may lead to more tragedy.

Since George Zimmerman was acquitted I have seen such a backlash within the African American community that I am inspired by their relentless efforts to fight against a system that attempts to castrate them. I paraphrase Malcolm X’s speech at the Ford Auditorium in 1965, during which he calls our country “a vicious and hypocritical system and that African Americans must strike it in the only way he knows how.”

The question of what is an appropriate response to such an inappropriate conclusion in the court case renders one feeling at a loss for eloquence. Neither Malcolm X nor Martin Luther King were able to defeat racism, but what Malcolm X was alluding to was the need for extreme action, though in what form it would take he does not specify. And as I look on Facebook and see the continuous posts of one of my friends, I see him sorting out the mess in his mind, traveling through the anger towards the white man. George Zimmerman had spotted dark-skinned “thugs” in his neighborhood who had been arrested for robbery weeks before, and on his phone call to the police he says “they always get away with it.” What we see here is a generalization, formed from the muddy mess of stereotyping, in which some bad kids set the path for racism to run rampant, for George Zimmerman to perhaps feel just in shooting his gun as he suspected Trayvon was a criminal.

Such quick conclusions are what make healthy debates turn into shouting matches between two sides that can’t settle down to understand each other. I saw my friend on Facebook begin to speak of “white people” as a group that could be identified for their determination to use black people for their own social advantage. And I grew frustrated, but I did not respond…why would I? I would end up in an argument in which I was the white man denying my own culpability. Eventually I watched him post again and again until finally he wrote something that put my heart at ease: “I am not speaking of all white people, only those who use their skin color to gain advantage in the world.”

And my response of appeasement did not set me at ease as why was it that I so badly needed one black male to approve of the color of my skin? Did he too represent the whole African American Community? Was he a member of the New Black Panthers, which members of the Original Black Panthers have discredited out of fear that the new group would use violence to secure their goal of equality?

The key point I keep on arriving at when I think over how George Zimmerman is a free man and Trayvon Martin is dead is actually a question: how will this shape our racial politics? Will it make African Americans less comfortable when they wear baggy clothing out of fear of being assumed to be a criminal? Will people of non-black skin color have more patience, learn to view people of color who wear baggy clothing as people and not threats? I just hope that in the future, as we debate, we also remember that our path towards peace will never be paved on using statements that begin with “white people this” or “black people that”, as all such dialogue does is create a game of ping pong in which the attacker becomes the attacked, and vice versa, so that we no longer no who is right and who is wrong, only who is black and who is white so that all our gun shots will feel justified in their brief and unwholesome justifications.

Ezra Prior is a Contributor to The Free George. Photo Courtesy of Business Insider.

The Free George is the online magazine and visitors’ guide of Upstate NY, covering things from Albany to Lake Placid, including Saratoga, the Lake George region and the Adirondacks. Check out our City Blogs section for our extended coverage areas as well.

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