Healing From Trayvon: When Race, Class, and Culture Collide

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The elephant in the room is waving its tusks. America has had a rude awakening. The masses now understand that we are far from being a “post racial” society. The Voting Rights Acts (VRA) and Affirmative Action rulings, Bloomberg’s defense of “Stop and Frisk,” Paula Deen’s implosion and the George Zimmerman trial have created a collision of race, class and culture; pouring a bucket of cold water on all those who believe we live in a world where people “don’t see color.” What’s been revealed are the racial assumptions and socioeconomic judgements floating just beneath the surface of our conversations, confrontations and political decisions. 

The notion that we can end racism by keeping quiet has proven to be faulty logic. Across the country in living rooms, barbershops and pubs people ARE talking. Unfortunately, the discussions are most likely between individuals who share similar backgrounds and ideologies. The exchanges that need to happen should include persons of varying political affiliations, ethnic identification, experiences with discrimination and racial sensitivity. Our perspectives are tied so tightly to our prejudices that the pain spills over before any level of understanding can be reached.

African Americans have spent most of our collective time in the US being bought and sold as property, denigrated, abused, disenfranchised and ridiculed. I believe we are suffering from transgenerational PTSD. It seems nearly impossible for the majority culture to understand the injustice and agony of festering wounds. Is it possible to heal the amount of emotional and institutional damage done by hundreds of years of oppression? The benefits of white privilege and the weight of black burden are so tightly sown into the fabric of our country I wonder how it can be mended without ripping the nation to shreds.

The criminal justice system has found George Zimmerman not guilty of the murder of Trayvon Martin. Attorneys and pundits hope to extinguish the growing flame of civic outrage by reminding us that the law doesn’t promise moral justice. Many have said though George Zimmerman may have been found not guilty, he was not found innocent. This patronizing legal double talk adds insult to injury. In plain English we understand that a young, unarmed black teenage boy was racially profiled, stalked and shot in the heart based on the imaginary fears of a man who is now able to walk the streets a free man. Our disgust is compounded by the fear that our sons, brothers and husbands could share Trayvon’s fate based on the belief that the black male is an animal to be feared under the cover of night. It can be presumed that the State of Florida has sent the message to everyone who feels threatened when encountered by a black man that their fright is justified. “Only in America can a dead black boy be put on trial for his own murder.” Syreeta McFadden

Some have attempted to undermine the outrage associated with this case by asking why African Americans aren’t as outspoken against black on black crime. The nation has watched in horror as tens of black and brown people shoot, and often kill, each other every weekend in Chicago. I would argue that we ARE upset and actively working to stop violence within our communities. Teachers, religious leaders, concerned parents and community organizers have created numerous outreach programs and anti-violence efforts to bandage an epidemic that can only be cured by prevention. The depth and breadth of that issue is so profound that it takes thousands of moving pieces working together to create systemic change. The solutions are clear enough: get guns off the streets, turn around a failing school system, end unemployment, increase access to healthcare, etc. These types of socio-environmental adjustments begin with grassroots efforts, but must be supported by local and national infrastructure. Sadly, keeping more young, urban dwelling people alive may not be a big enough incentive to solicit the major investments needed in broken communities.

Over the last four generations many African Americans have managed to move families away from areas plagued with violence. With hard work, education and entrepreneurship, like the Martin family, we have sought refuge in middle class, racially diverse neighborhoods. These individuals, especially with humble beginnings of their own, sympathize with families suffering daily on meaner streets, but there has been a disconnect between the haves and the have-nots in the African American community.

Some may discount exactly how hard it is to ascend from a low-income, crime ridden community. Their own personal ambitions, healthy bonds and talents may be taken for granted in comparison to the lack of opportunities afforded brothers and sisters in crisis. Our well-read, soccer playing children aren’t regularly harassed by gang members and street hustlers. The danger they face is different. We prepare them for the racist prism that will cast a dark shadow over their existence as black in America. 

The truth is that despite all the efforts parents make to educate, socialize and raise our children (black boys especially) with dignity, many will still take one glance and profile them as unrooted, ignorant and menacing. We challenge them to be twice as smart, humble and hardworking; to be mindful of the first impressions they make. We talk about the tone they take when speaking with teachers; their posture when in the presence of law enforcement; their attire while hanging out with friends. As adults we know that one need not be called a nigger to be viewed and treated as one. Many Americans believe a black boy’s childhood ends around 12 years old. After that they become an “unidentified suspect”. Elders worry when adolescents don’t heed advice and experiment with destructive behaviors preached against. But, acting out is not seen as teenage angst by police, media, school administrators and other persons of authority. Unruly black males are not slapped on the wrist and sent to their parents for scolding – they’re searched spread eagle on the hood of their parent’s cars just a few blocks from home. They are rarely given the benefit of the doubt, they are instead made an example of. 

We need not look back to the 1955 brutal death of Emmett Till. The recent murders of unarmed young black men including Amadou Diallo, Sean Bell, Oscar Grant, Jordan Davis and Trayvon Martin make us wonder how much has really changed. Some will teach their sons to shrink, be docile and apologetic – even when they are victimized – all for the sake of remaining safe in AND out of our communities. Those who teach pride and self assertion will worry well beyond the parental norm.

A series of current events, beginning with the candidacy of President Barack Obama, have made candid debates about race and politics are imperative to the healing of our country. The myth of a post racial society has emboldened everyone to lay their frustrations on the table. The division is shocking, but reveals how much work needs to be done.


The Zimmerman Mentality: What Bugs Taught Me About Race Relations in America
What About Our Fear?: An Open Letter to My Fellow American Friends and Neighbors

Deanna Davis Shoyoye is a wife, mother of two, counselor and the founding blogger of https://maryclaremontchronicles.wordpress.com and www.mommymorphosis.blogspot.com Born and raised in Chicago, Il Deanna received her B.A. in English from Spelman College and MA in School and Mental Health Counseling from Saint Xavier University. Like MommyMorphosis on Facebook and follow Deanna on Twitter @ShoMommy

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