Where do I begin?
When my collaborator and I began planning this semester, we were not sure what we wanted to teach about per se, but we knew we had to discuss Trayvon Martin. We could not ignore him — his murder was plastered all over the internet, his name came up in most conversations; his iconic, hoodied picture was immortalized on our students’ T-shirts — Trayvon’s story had to be discussed, if for nothing else but to understand tragedies that happen not only in the literature we read, but also in the world around us.
Fast forward to Zimmerman’s verdict and the chaos that followed (more on lesson plans later):
We watched this video as a class. I remember the portion of his speech that stood out most to me:
You know, when Trayvon Martin was first shot I said that this could have been my son. Another way of saying that is Trayvon Martin could have been me 35 years ago. And when you think about why, in the African American community at least, there’s a lot of pain around what happened here, I think it’s important to recognize that the African American community is looking at this issue through a set of experiences and a history that doesn’t go away.
There are very few African American men in this country who haven’t had the experience of being followed when they were shopping in a department store. That includes me. There are very few African American men who haven’t had the experience of walking across the street and hearing the locks click on the doors of cars. That happens to me — at least before I was a senator. There are very few African Americans who haven’t had the experience of getting on an elevator and a woman clutching her purse nervously and holding her breath until she had a chance to get off. That happens often.
And I don’t want to exaggerate this, but those sets of experiences inform how the African American community interprets what happened one night in Florida. And it’s inescapable for people to bring those experiences to bear. The African American community is also knowledgeable that there is a history of racial disparities in the application of our criminal laws — everything from the death penalty to enforcement of our drug laws. And that ends up having an impact in terms of how people interpret the case.
Whether you agree or disagree with our president’s political agenda, there is incredible honesty in these words. They cracked open my heart and touched me in a way I thought impossible — in a way that allowed me to see the situation of a person whom I cannot relate to on a literal scale no matter how hard I try because of the privilege I was born with — a privilege of fitting naturally into the normative societal scale of acceptance because of the color of my skin.
I began to understand this concept more after reading Peggy McIntosh’s White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack. What struck me most is that, before I began to consciously think of these ideas, I never thought about them. Sure, the sentiment is simple, but no matter how obvious it is to me now, I still never consciously paid attention to my situation in life before I was told to, so, I guess that is why I am sharing my revelations with you now.
So, back to George Zimmerman: Zimmerman is Charged with Aggravated Assault. No matter how hard we try to close the wounds that have been opened by the Trayvon Martin trial, they becomes continuously reopened. After the most recent news broke on Zimmerman, I began seeing this picture circulating the internet:
While my initial reaction is to roll my eyes, as this meme is making light of a heavy situation, there is truth here. According to Malco (2013), “race matters in this country are the paralysis of the American people.” In other words: when issues regarding race come up, we either 1. talk ourselves in circles, going nowhere or 2. ignore matters of race altogether. Sure, this is a silly meme which is not meant to be taken seriously, but the sentiment here is very serious, and something which should not be silenced further.
So, to answer my original question: what do we do with George Zimmerman? My answer is: I don’t know, but we cannot ignore him — to do so would be like slapping Trayvon in the face. However, we also cannot give into the media’s ploys to make money off of his demise.