Posted by: Tina M | 14 July , 2013

5 Things I am going to do to Honor Trayvon Martin Today

Trayvon Martin

Art by Shepard Fairey for Ebony Magazine.

1.  Acknowledge the person he was and the spirit that still is of a young man that is more than a high profile death.

2. Acknowledge the impacts of his case and verdict on myself and my community

3. Feel and express grief for the loss of a caring family, girlfriend, community, and world.

4.  Step back and complicate the “bad guy” – as over simplified monsters tend to lead to over-simplified solutions

5.  Live my life fully, with gratitude, love and peace.

1.  Trayvon Martin: A real story of a young black man.

Trayvon's sweet smile

A picture of Trayvon smiling.

It can be easy to turn a young man into an icon, and while it’s made him quite famous without him being around to “set the record straight” it can be quite easy for his spirit and person was something before he was murdered in an act of overt racist violence born of fear and misunderstanding. Unfortunately, it’s too early for his public image to get lost in the fuzziness of ideal, as it’s still under attack by the parties who would like you to believe he “deserved” his own death. Luckily, his family has provided some insights into who this young man was. I challenge that we spend time honoring who he was fully before acting “in his name” in a way that could really disrespect the values that he held.

2.  It’s a dangerous time to be Black.

Historically, this has been the case (For a long time at least), but it continues to transform into new and uglier manifestations that need to be looked at. I think as a White Ally, the best thing I can do is to listen. To listen to the folks who are most impacted by this, Communities of Color.  It’s so easy to be reactive and take up lots of space, but until I’m instructed to by those who will be most affected by my actions, I think that’s just another extension of privilege. It feels good to vent. But you need to figure out the spaces that are appropriate, where you won’t be adding to the weight on our friends and family’s shoulders, where you actually help to support them as they recover from this blow to their sense of safety in their own country. I think there was a great post earlier that captures a huge portion of this reality.

Man, I’m just glad I had a mom who gave me the realness from a young age. I can remember thinking she was so stuck in the past for telling me that I couldn’t do or say or wear certain things, that I could not stay out as late as my white friends could, that I could not “experiment” with any of the things my white friends did. I struggled so much with her for trying to impress upon me the fact that I was different. Because I’m supposed to be. I lived in a nice house, spoke more than one language, was well educated and well socialized and I did not understand why I needed to constantly act in a manner designed to disarm another person’s suspicions about me. 

But wow, I get it now. Every black kid has that moment where he has to decide to accept the armor that his parents present to him to get through life as an American black male, or walk around naked. And the crazy part is, it’s probably something most people outside of the black community never see. I can remember my mom talking to me over and over and over again about what to do and who to call if I was ever picked up by a police officer. She made sure I knew that I needed to declare that I was exercising my Miranda rights rather simply evoke them without notice. If you were in JNJ your mom probably made you take a WHOLE FREAKING CLASS on how to deal with police officers and other people who were perceived to be threatening. 

And I say that to say that as scary as people think black males are, black males are conditioned to be ten times more afraid of everyone else. We’re conditioned to be afraid of goin to certain parts of the country, afraid of people with certain political view, afraid of police officers, and sometimes even afraid of other black and latino males. The most sickening thing about this whole trial has been the deliberate campaign to rob Trayvon of his right to be afraid. I know I would have been. 

And I owe her the deepest of apologies for all of the times that I accused her of overacting or impressing a vision of a society long since passed on the one that exists today. 

It doesn’t matter how well traveled you are or how many languages you speak or who where you went to school. It doesn’t matter how many friends you have or how much good you’ve done in the world. From afar we are all the same. 

It used to hurt when my mother would tell me I couldn’t put my hood up or that I couldn’t stay out as late as my white friends. She told me I was a young black male and I couldn’t afford these things and I figured she never knew how much it hurt for be to know that she did not have faith that I could transcend the many stereotypes that swirl around me and be seen as an individual. 

But when I think about my own mother having to come down the police station, and Identify my naked body and come home and go in my room that would feel strangely empty. She would have to walk past my favorite custom built aquarium and the framed boards my class in japan made for me on my last day of study abroad, she would have to open my closet and go through all of the clothes I would never wear again and find my favorite suit and then walk out of a room where every object holds a memory. 

She would have to go on interviews and meet with lawyers and try to be strong in the face of unimaginable tragedy. While people picked apart my character and found every facebook status where I cursed or every stupid picture I was ever captured in. She would have to sit in court and dignify people who sought to put me in the ground with not a shred of justice with her presence and her silence. And then on top of that, after a year of pain, to hear from 6 other mothers that my life meant nothing……..

And the thought that after 24 hours of labor, thousands of dollars on tuition and extra curriculars and trips and summer activties, and millions of tiny sacrifices that she could be left with the dust of my memory and the guilt of having not prepared me for this thing called America. 

I joke about it, but I know how much I mean to her. Before I go parasailing I think about her, and before I jump in the ocean I think about her, and when I had tigers crawling all over me and licking my face I was thinking about her. But I did those things because I knew that even if I got poisoned by a cobra or mauled by a tiger, I know it would have been hard…….but she would have derived comfort from knowing that I died pursuing happiness, adventure, and experiences that are worth their risks. 

But I know that she would never ever be able to recover from knowing that I died the way that Trayvon died. And so I understand so well why she taught me to think about the world in the way that I do. To remember how to love life, be open to others, but to always remember who I am and to be so secure in who I am, that I accept that I must constantly think and behave with consideration for that one person who might think they already know. 

I have fought with my mom, dad, and stepdad about what it means to be a young black man in 2013. And I have at times been annoyed at all of them for presenting me with my constraints. But I am so lucky to have been armed with the truth at such and early age. The world can be so confusing for us. So much kindness, and so much cruelty. We’ve all accused our parents of over estimating the dangers out there. But they managed to teach us not to allow this country to fill us with fear, while simultaneously not allowing it to rob us of our vigilance. Shout-out to all of the parents out there, giving that extra course on how to keep your children from being victimized in a society that does not believe that they can be victims. 

– Wesley Hall
Key Messages for White Allies:
Be mindful of the spaces you may put your friends of color in danger that you take for granted.
Work actively to fight racism in your daily life; have those hard conversations
Listen. Listen. Listen.

3.  Feelings

Have them.  Icon for Video

4. It’s never as simple as we’d like to think. 

I’ve been doing “REAL” work for a while now and I’ve seen that a bad guy is usually a sum of his or her experiences. Working in child welfare I see time and time again that everyone has a long and intricate life story that has molded them to be as awesome or as frightening as we can imagine. I’m not going to try and say that he was a good guy that just got triggered and acted too hastily. I think Zimmerman’s record speaks for itself.  It is complicated though. He wasn’t as white as most folks would like to have it seem. He experienced racism as well in his daily life- and while his skin privilege may have provided him more advantages, the reality is that this man was and probably is AFRAID. He had internalized messages that anything that seems different must be wrong and dangerous, especially young black men. This sort of internalized racism has ugly effects on the person holding these beliefs, so I pause to consider the hell that Zimmerman may be living in daily.

And, let’s be real. He did something that has been happening for centuries. He exerted his will on another and took away someone’s basic right to life. He deemed his sense of security as more important than the young man’s life and presence that seemed to threaten him.  And as ugly as it is, it’s not uncommon. And while it’s horrific and disturbing, the verdict isn’t that uncommon either. But it hurts, when all eyes are on your actions, that a Judge and Jury would rule him not guilty. In the eyes of the Florida judicial system the perceived threat of one of it’s citizens justifies the murder of an innocent young man. It also hurts that the issue of race has not been addressed sufficiently in any of the proceedings. Of course it’s difficult to know how best to approach the topic, but there needs to be some stronger punishment for Hate Crimes- and while he may not have known Trayvon personally, I think his actions show that he hated what he represented as a young Black Man.

5. We must continue

We must reflect, we must take care of ourselves and move forward intentionally. I believe that sometimes the best I can do is live my life to the fullest and not take for granted all those gifts that I receive by virtue of my skin color, by virtue of my able-bodied privilege, my ability to live in the Bay Area, and by the grace of God.

Today, it was reflecting on the Bay, taking in the vast beauty of mother nature. The larger over-arching story of loss and miracles. We are so small through the lens of a global reality. The more we can connect with this the more each of us can recognize the fleeting reality of this life, and the importance of embracing it fully and honestly.

Beautiful waves and the Bridge in the distance

Middle Harbor Shoreline Park. West Oakland

Paths and skyline of San Francisco

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