We Are All Trayvon Martin

In the wake of the “not guilty” verdict, we are all in greater danger.

“What do you mean that you feel threatened by me, ma’am?”

That’s what I heard my boyfriend say to our neighbor when she came to our apartment two weeks ago. In the late evening, she came to our door demanding a conversation. Despite my disinterest given her pattern of prejudicial behaviors, my boyfriend patiently engaged her.

We moved into our Montgomery County apartment last year. On move-in day, it took three separate efforts on my part to finally get her to shake my hand and acknowledge my presence when I went to introduce myself.  Since then, she’s hit every major stereotype about blacks, suggesting that we’ve attempted to burglarize her home, complaining about loud music coming from a stereo we do not own, and calling me “hostile.” She has also gone as far to infer things about “where we’re from” and how we’re “used to living.”

That night at our front door, she told us about how the proximity of our very existence made her uncomfortable and “afraid” of us.

“It’s not anything personal,” said the woman who told him my name “wasn’t important.”

Their conversation had volleyed back and forth from opposite sides of the doorway.  My ears tuned in as I heard my boyfriend’s voice soften in a way I’d never heard before.  “How am I threatening you, ma’am?”

It was a strange sound. One that searched for understanding while suspended in disbelief that somehow he’d been perceived as menacing, despite the ordinariness of his actions.

Quickly, I went to the door and ended the conversation. Instinctively, I knew a black man’s innocence would never stand up next to a white person’s — especially a white woman’s — claims of discomfort, should it have escalated.  As I moved toward the door, I saw the look in his eyes. Suddenly, a solid man of 6 feet looked keenly aware of the delicate minefield that lay before him. His smallness in the wake of her privilege infuriated me.  He was in his home. He was being antagonized. And yet, in that moment as he advocated on his own behalf, as he fought for his right to be there, he was guilty.

Moments like this one explain why the Trayvon Martin case resonates so strongly with me. Such is the case for many other black people. We are all Trayvon Martin. We know his story; we’ve lived it ourselves. With this verdict, a judicial allowance of deadly force based on racial prejudice, we now find ourselves in greater danger. How convenient it must be to have the privilege to “not see race” as it becomes messy and inconvenient.

“The master’s tools will never dismantle the master’s house.” – Audre Lorde

I would like to say that I was surprised by George Zimmerman’s “not guilty” verdict. I would like to say that I believed that a mostly white jury of white women could see a 17-year-old black boy in a hoodie as something other dangerous. I would like to say that I believed that they would see George Zimmerman’s decision to get out of his car as both absurd and antagonizing; that in following someone, he played the role of instigator. I would like to know that black men and women are entitled to defend themselves when they are confronted.

But then I would have to forget everything I already know about the way black people are viewed in this country.

I would have to forget Emmitt Till. Orlando Barlow. Kathryn Johnson. Kimani Gray. Chavis Carter. Sean Bell. Amadou Diallo. Oscar Grant. Jordan Davis. Fred Hampton. Rekia Boyd. Derek Williams. Countless others.

I would have to forget what I saw at my front door two weeks ago.

“i saw
three little black boys
lying in a grave yard
i couldn’t tell
if they were playing
or practicing.”
- Baba Lukata, “Rehearsal”

When I heard the verdict announced yesterday, a wave of sadness and anger crashed over me. I was angry because I’d allowed myself to hope.  “If we didn’t know before, we know now,” I tweeted as I watched white cable news anchors try to understand black rage from their colleagues on live TV.

It’s simple, really. The frustrating thing about racism and racial prejudice is their duality as both subversive and customary. Enduring racism and surviving it become rites of passage; our communities grow accustomed to the narrative.  The ability to anticipate your own oppression is maddening.

Following the death of her 14-year-old son, Emmitt Till, who was killed in 1955 for allegedly whistling at a white woman, Mamie Till spoke on the collectivism of black identity:

“Two months ago I had a nice apartment in Chicago. I had a good job. I had a son. When something happened to the Negroes in the South I said, ‘That’s their business, not mine,’” she said. “Now I know how wrong I was. The murder of my son has shown me that what happens to any of us, anywhere in the world, had better be the business of us all.”

According to the Orlando Sentinel, there are nearly 450,000 signatures on the NAACP petition calling for the Department of Justice to investigate in shooting of Trayvon Martin. As I write this column, there are protests happening in Los Angeles, New York, Charlotte, Denver, Detroit and the Florida Capitol. There were others in Washington, D.C., and in here in Philadelphia. California freeways are swarmed with marching demonstrators and Times Square is flooded with large crowds of peaceful protesters.

Zora Neale Hurston once said, “If you are silent about your pain, they’ll kill you and say you enjoyed it.” Without a public push for an investigation, Trayvon Martin’s story would be unknown to many, and George Zimmerman would not have been arrested, much less tried in front of a jury.  In light of a “not guilty” verdict, we have begun to attend to the business of us all, affirming that we will not be silenced. We are all Trayvon Martin. And we will not die.

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  • melissa

    this is well written. still shocked and disgusted, and most of all saddened… wishing the best recovery for the martin family…

  • dagbat

    The United States just elected a black president. Twice!
    Perhaps it is time for blacks to stop believing the voice of the vast majority of their leaders (most of whom appear quite successful, wealthy, and admired)
    that blacks are racially oppressed and that they can never succeed or be accepted because of white bigotry and a deck that is stacked against them. This is hogwash. It is a scam to keep blacks down. The jury in the Trayvon Martin case reached their decision based on the evidence, not due to racism as many black leaders are still saying. These leaders do not want blacks to know the truth. That today blacks can go just as far as anyone can in America. Look around. There are successful blacks everywhere. Blacks own and run companies, they are on the supreme court, head government agencies, run states as governors, they are senators, congressmen, highly paid athletes, hollywood celebrities, authors, academics. Most of all he current president of the United States, the most powerful man on the planet is a black man!

    • YEAYEA

      I BET YOU THINK ATHLETES GET PAID TOO MUCH TOO, BUT NO ONE SAYS ANYTHING ABOUT THE OWNERS MAKING MILLIONS MORE ON THEIR BEHALF

  • skikayaker

    I’m afraid that Maya Francis is yet another young misguided minority that needs to turn her head around and look in the forward position. Looking backward to learn how her ethnic group was victimized will not do a bit of good in helping her improve her own life. My advice to Maya Francis is to accept the results of a fair trial and a jury decision. Maya needs to learn that all the welfare, affirmative action, and reparations has not changed the fact that of the 47 shootings in Chicago over the 4th of July holiday that resulted in 11 murders of black citizens of that city, ALL were shot dead by a person of the same ethnic group, black. In fact, the only way to improve the demographics regarding black population in our prisons, and reduce black on black crime is for black people to start solving the problems that overwhelm their communities and stop looking for hand-outs from the social welfare programs that have obviously not helped Maya’s race.

    To Maya Francis I say it’s time to stop looking back, stop looking at yourself as a victim, pull up your bootstraps, and clean up your communities that are most in need. Volunteer if you have to, but please, stop suggesting that we are all Trayvon Martins. The trial was a fair as it could be and the people have spoken. Zimmerman was found not guilty. Accept it, and move on. Stop looking for handouts and stop looking for reparations.

  • Denene Millner

    Thank you for writing this, Maya. It is eloquently stated, heartfelt, painfully familiar and spot on. Your words—and your willingness to share them despite the lack of empathy and rampant ignorance of others—is appreciated.

    • J.Oz

      Dissent is NOT ignorance – never has been, and should never be allowed to be…

  • lex

    You are an ignorant racist, I don’t see how you still have your job.

    This was not a trial about white versus black. After reading this nonsense, basically you think zimmerman is guilty just because he is white. Well guess what, he is hispanic!! So there goes your whole case against zimmerman.

    “How convenient it must be to not see race”. Im no expert on racism, but that sounds like words of a racist. You are basically admitting to being a racist. My race is not important but I view all people equally black, white, asian, hispanic, indians. The only thing that really separates us is how the individual acts. There are many intelligent intellectual non-racist black people, same with whites.

    So basically you want zimmerman to be guilty because he is “white”. What if zimmerman was black, who would be guilty? The guy beating the man laying on the ground screaming for help getting his head smashed into the pavement, or the one that used a gun to get the aggressor to stop? What about those two black boys that killed the white girl and put her body in a trash bag, not guilty too right?

  • Ron Bockman

    “NAACP petition calling for the Department of Justice to investigate in shooting of Trayvon Martin”, local authorities knew there was no case, state tried to make a case and failed, now the federal government will try to prosecute this young Peruvian man. When they fail, what’s next, the U.N.?

    • meeester

      do we give you credit for predicting this or was it too obvious?

      Jesse Jackson Calls for United Nations Investigation on America…

  • skikayaker

    Just saw one of the jurors state in an interview with CNN’s Anderson Cooper that race had nothing to do with their decision. What is most unfortunate is that the juror felt compelled to give her interview in silhouette for fear of her life. Why is a juror afraid for her life if she speaks the truth? The answer is obvious.

  • J.Oz

    “According to the Orlando Sentinel, there are nearly 450,000 signatures on the NAACP petition calling for the Department of Justice to investigate in shooting of Trayvon Martin.”

    So…the Special Prosecutor and media pressure (I hope NBC pays dearly) didn’t yield the DESIRED result. Where was the bias? What material manipulation was committed by the defense? What evidence is there of juror prejudice in THIS case?

    Martin vs. Zimmerman is an AWFUL story.

    The NAACP Witch Hunt is ON and is writing the next chapter.

  • meeester

    Maya’s boyfriend sounds like a ‘stand up guy’. It also sounds like he’s living with one racist while living with one nearby.
    Well, it’s a free country and you are welcome to let racism live in your brain. I choose to engage with people as individuals and that means embracing nice people while being willing to challenge the dysfuntional.

    • skikayaker

      Now that’s funny, and sounds true. Maya writes like a Racist. My first reaction was how is someone with such a backward thinking view getting a job writing for PhillyMag in the first place? PhillyMag can do better and if filling quotas are an issue I’m sure there are more qualified black women to represent their blogs while writing with more intellect and integrity.

  • MLM

    Wow Maya. What message are you giving to black youth when
    you ASSUME that Martin was defending himself against Zimmerman? The evidence
    indicates that Martin doubled back and was beating the cr@p out of Zimmerman,
    who didn’t use his gun to protect himself until Martin had pounded his head for
    more than 45 seconds. Head injuries can kill or debilitate very quickly. It
    sounds like you want the situation to be one where a poor little boy was hunted
    down and attacked and then dragged all the way back to the area he had
    originally run away from. After being physically dragged back to the “T” area,
    the poor child then had to sit on top of his “attacker” and break his
    nose and pound his head into the cement. He had to do that because the guy
    under him was attacking him, right? It can’t possibly be that an angry teenager
    full of hormones who had been in fights previously and who had been kicked out
    of school for drugs and who had been found with stolen jewelry decided to beat
    up the supposedly “white cracker” to teach him a lesson for having
    the nerve to call the cops on him when he was hanging out near someone else’s
    house.

    You can pretend this tragedy is one where big bad whitey
    attacked and murdered a poor innocent young black child, but does that
    falsehood serve our community? Do you really want to encourage other young
    black men to glare out angrily from their hoodies daring anyone to question
    them, in spite of the rash of burglaries committed by other African Americans
    in that neighborhood?

    I’ve told my young black, white and Hispanic relatives that
    if someone profiles them, immediately think about their own behavior, think
    whether what they are currently doing might seem suspicious. Then remove their
    hoodie if it’s up, and deescalate the situation by communicating with the person
    who is calling the cops. If you’re not doing anything wrong, don’t act like you
    are. If you’re afraid, call a parent or the police or run away if you think the
    person is a predator or pedophile, but do not get an attitude and do not attack
    someone, regardless of what they might think about your behavior or clothes or
    even your race or age.

    Unfortunately, Maya, many young black men will listen to
    your angry, accusatory words instead of my words of reason, and many will
    belligerently continue the cycle of violence. That perpetual violence will be
    the legacy of your dishonesty regarding Trayvon Martin’s decisions and actions
    in this case.

  • http://www.whatmyworldslike.com/blog leandra

    These comments are sad and pathetic but less so than those authoring the comments themselves. How is the author racist? What exactly gave you that impression? The fact that she’s talking about race? I suggest you all, who know so little, but think you know more read White Privilege, unpacking the invisible knapsack by Peggy McIntosh and read Tim Wise’s work.

    Obviously, you’ll only ever understand racism and white supremacy from one of your own.

    • skikayaker

      I can recommend reading some of the writings from Amy Wax who is a Penn Law professor with a focus on Social Welfare and Policy, Civil Procedure, and Family Law. Although she wrote a good piece in the WSJ entitled “We are all racists at heart”.

      Please take note of this disturbing FBI statistic from the years 1976-2005:
      91% of homicides of all black Americans were committed by other black Americans. Using the same FBI statistics 14% or twice as many white victim homicides were committed by black Americans, only 7% of black homicides were committed by white Americans.

      The argument that Maya makes with her neighbor seems to be somewhat cherry picked. The statistics paint a completely different portrait that what Maya tried to sell in her blog.

      The FBI statistics along with the statistics that of the 47 shootings that occurred in Chicago over the 4th of July holiday 11 resulted in murders that were ALL black on black homicides.

      Amy Wax, and black leaders like Bill Cosby talk much more about personal responsibility and hard work to resolve the black community problems that are at the root of the FBI statistics. Leaders like Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton have reduced themselves to mere race merchants looking for revenue sources that come from intense media exposure.

  • hoyt

    I lived though the civil rights era of the 60′s. In April of 1967 I was
    stationed at the Navel Air station Memphis Tenn when Dr. Martin Luther King
    Jr.was assassinated . At the time my best friend was a black man from NYC. The
    base was locked down for weeks and we were told not to be seen together in
    town.

    The only thing that’s changed in 50 years is that the very blacks that
    hated the racists , have turned into the racists themselves.Al Sharpton &
    Jesse Jackson are quick to jump to judgment and lynch George Zimmerman.

    They have no message of peace or harmony , they have become the Ant-Christs
    of the new civil rights movement.

    If Dr.Martin Luther King Jr. Were alive today , he would not stand behind
    there questionable values.

    “Fear not the path of truth,for lack of those walking on it”. Robert F
    Kennedy

  • Gatti

    No child was murdered. Just a thug who was high on pot the night he hid in darkness and ambushed an innocent man. This gangsta thug had been suspended from school for drugs several times and bragged about his street fighting skills. At nearly 18 years old he was a full grown man sized punk. Big tall and strong enough to kill with his bare hands. You people go on deluding yourselves that he was a child… No wonder you believe all the crap obama feeds you. This kid was a career criminal and his death saved more lives than just George Zimmerman’s.

    • YEAYEA

      HOW DO YOU AMBUSH SOMEONE FOLLOWING YOU?

  • Gatti

    THE HARD TRUTH: BLACKS HATE WHITE PEOPLE!

  • Gatti

    No child was murdered. Just a thug who was high on pot the night he hid in darkness and ambushed an innocent man. This gangsta thug had been suspended from school for drugs several times and bragged about his street fighting skills. At nearly 18 years old he was a full grown man sized punk. Big tall and strong enough to kill with his bare hands. You people go on deluding yourselves that he was a child… No wonder you believe all the crap obama feeds you. This kid was a career criminal and his death saved more lives than just George Zimmerman’s.

    • YEAYEA

      WOW …SO NOTHING ABOUT ZIMMERMANS ASSAULT ON POLICE OFFICERS? SOUNDS LIKE YOUR FOCUSING ON ONE SIDE OF THE MATTER

  • Gatti

    Martin was not on sidewalks he was seeking around behind houses at night…. martin has a criminal record for stoleen goods and drugs was kicked out of school and had been kicked out of his mothers house he was NO CHILD AND NO ANGLE!!

  • lex

    This BLACK priest says it best

  • Terika Renee

    I have to comment on some of the comments made
    below. I don’t understand how white people, who probably never experienced racism in America can speak on it. They are quick to say that
    it does not exist in 2013…yea, in your world it doesn’t exist. And please stop saying that because Obama is in office that racism does not exist. Yes we have come a long way in regards to racism but we still have
    a long way to go. If you don’t think Obama or any other African American of power or the upper class does not experience racism then you need to open your eyes and educate yourself before speaking on it. Let me tell you something; racism exist in all classes. Do you think wealthy blacks don’t experience racism because they are wealthy???? Please stop! They live in communities where their neighbors don’t look like them and feel they do not belong in their neighborhoods. Yes we are successful, wealthy and accomplished but racism still lives in the upper class as well as the middle
    class and lower class. I just wish that white people would stop voicing their opinion on racism because you have the slightest clue how it feels to live in America as a black person.

    As far as the Zimmerman trial…hah a joke! People
    want to call Trayvon Martin a thug because he smoked pot and wore a hoody and Zimmerman is a hero because he saved his neighborhood. You people are
    delusional! It’s easy to believe his account of the story because his punk ass is the only one telling it. The fact that Zimmerman pursued a teenager who was minding his own business, deserved to get his ass beat. And from the looks of those photos that he claims he had his head bashed in is also a joke. Zimmerman is a coward, wanna be cop who racially profiled a teenager because he claimed he was looking around to burglarize houses.
    Yea ok, I’m glad you support him and had the rest of white America to support that lame story. This is another case of racial profiling and injustice on
    African Americans. We’ve been dealing with this type of injustice for years and it will continue to happen. How can a system fail us that was never built to protect us. It’s sad but true.

    Great article Maya! Continue educating these ignorant people!

    • skikayaker

      At what point do you stop making excuses and looking for government handouts and start coordinating community volunteers to help cultivate poor black communities into something better than a breeding ground for black on black crime, drug abuse, and children being born without fathers?

      I’m a minority. My father, a native american chief was born in a box car, denied access to city pools, had to move from Virginia to Philly just to get an education beyond the 7th grade. Never did he make excuses. He was denied access to social clubs. He worked nights, went to night school and became the self made man he is today, retired, and living the dream. At one point in his life he worked three jobs to support a wife and four children.

      I encourage you to read the writings of Amy Wax who illustrates clearly that although the black race has been victims of bad policies she also acknowledges that the only way to resolve the problems of the past is from within the black community itself.

      The poorest Native Americans and the Native Americans with the worst alcohol and drug related dependencies fall within the government supplemented reservations. Those Native Americans who moved on to better there life succeeded in doing just that, bettering their lives.

      Government dependence will never fix the problems we see in our black communities or native american reservations. Personal responsibility will.

  • Gatti

    Martin was not on sidewalks he was seeking around behind houses at night…. martin has a criminal record for stoleen goods and drugs was kicked out of school and had been kicked out of his mothers house he was NO CHILD AND NO ANGLE!!

  • Gatti

    OMG..this post is all speculation and assumptions which are dangerous. You have to stop glorifying a gangsta and we was stone cold gangsta as his tweets and FB and Myspace say so, from Martin himself and his friends.. Zim was there to protect his community for Christ sake. He was doing a service as they had continuing robberies and drug dealings. Zim had made MANY 911 calls, not just on blacks but ANYONE who looked like they were up to no good like he said!!! You don’t call 911 if you have murder on your menu! One is NOT allowed to beat someone up for following them and that is exactly what Martin did and was used to doing according to his tweets..at his own admission!!! You have to stop talking about Martin like he was in diapers and playing with Fisher Price toys!!! He got his gold teeth and cell phone and tats with the proceeds of his lucrative drug business!!! His parents were totally oblivious to what he was doing as he also was a thief, stealing jewelry! All he had to do was either call 911 or continue on his way to his fathers but he chose the gangsta way and decided to teach Zim a lesson for following him!!! He ambushed Zim and Zim had no way to retreat, he was taken completely by surprise and knocked backwards and then Martin, the unarmed teen jumped on his chest and Zim started screaming for help..why in hell would Martin possibly scream for help? You ppl defending a gangsta need some mental help!! Zim had a broken bloody nose, black eyes and 2 holes in his head!!! Cops took notice to the back of Zims clothes as they were wet and grass stained which says he was flat on his back and Martins wound was at close range and just one..no other wounds..which coincides with Zims story completely! No matter what you ppl ASSUME, this is what happened..There is NO REASON Martin would scream for help, that is so bizarre and ludicrous!!! Remember this, only Zim knows what happened for sure!! But obviously the cops were completely satisfied it was self defense as did the prosecutor as he was not arrested for 45 whole days and without any justifiable cause and no grand jury, they were pressured by the lynch mob to make the arrest!!!!

    • skikayaker

      What kind of 16/17 year old kid has tats, gold teeth, smokes pot, associates with drug users, has tools for breaking into houses and cars, gets suspended multiple times in school, takes photos of him giving the finger, and is caught with stolen jewelry? That would be Trayvon Martin. None of that exculpatory evidence was allowed in the trial or presented to the media. The media showed photos of a 12-year old Trayvon, doctored 911 tapes to make Zimmerman look like a racist despite Zimmerman having taken a black girl to his high school prom date and having mentored two young black youths.

  • Gatti

    This had nothing to do with skin color. Whenever any person believes he has the right to assault any other person he puts himself in the crosshairs. You people who are defending Martin, are foolishly teaching the youth of all races that its okay to think like a street thug and attack people from darkness. When they do, they will die and their blood will be on your hands and not those who invoke their absolute right of self defense.

  • Gatti

    Jesse Jackson is a white racist Baster go home

  • Gatti

    Jesse Jackson is a white racist Baster go home

  • PoetLover

    I’m not Trayvon Martin. I don’t go around with saggy pants, looking “gangsta” with ma’ grill, and posing with my homies and our fouhr fouhrs. Livin’ the thug life. If I go

    around beating random people up, I probably wouldn’t be surprised when one of them stabs me, or simply blows me away.

  • Gatti

    If protestors want to march so be it, but its stupid when the destroy innocent people property.And i am sick of the racecard being used.Blacks have it easier in America then latins or asians.Blacks just thnk everyone wants to attack them due to color yet when table turn they r racist too toward gays,latins,asians..

  • Gatti

    If protestors want to march so be it, but its stupid when the destroy innocent people property.And i am sick of the racecard being used.Blacks have it easier in America then latins or asians.Blacks just thnk everyone wants to attack them due to color yet when table turn they r racist too toward gays,latins,asians..

  • Gatti

    What a bunch of garbage. there are no laws that ‘Encourage’ altercations. what he is saying in ‘double speak’ is that they want to take more freedoms away from Americans. And what do I see up there … “Feds may train local and state cops” … ??? I can see it coming … get the people against each other in a racists conflict and bring in the military to show that the only way to keep control and “peace” is to have a military state like Germany had in the 1940′s.borack Obama speech I will never vote 4 u

  • RevivingPB

    This is why racism won’t stop. Article like this promote racism. I grew up in African community, I have many great “black” friends , I not gonna hide from the word black. I asked them why do your race so defensive. I once look at a guy because I happen to walking out my house. He standing in front off the house. Before even I could said hi, the guy started at me blah blah, you thinking I’m gonna rob you”. I bought this up to my black friends, they all come to conclusion that how society seem to view them. Story short our conclusion, is part of this is the blame for the media and society, part of it some black folk are using it as an excuse for their failure. A lot of the world isn’t racist , your action and reaction is why racism continued. It sadden me , i’m pretty sure there are alot more nice black folk than the few idiot that put a bad impression on the rest. I sure not a racist but I’m not gonna be nice to someone like that dude I saw in front of my house. Anyway on Zimmerman case , it sad because it bring up a topic that should not be in our society. Like I said if he follow him because of race it his fault but if trayvon Martin confront him with ignorance it his fault too. 2 wrong don’t make a right. 3 4 wrong by everyone don’t make it right either.

  • YEAYEA

    ZIMMERMAN IS A COLD BLOODED KILLER

  • YEAYEA

    SO ENSLAVING, CONQUERING AND ERRADICATING RACES MUST BE EMBEDDED IN SPAIN AND ANGLO SAXON DNA

  • YEAYEA

    YEA WHITE PEOPLE THAT HATE BLACKS

  • YEAYEA

    I WANT TO THANK YOU FOR SHOWING YOUR IGNORANCE