Reflections on Trayvon Martin
In light of recent events–the killing of Trayvon Martin, the shooting spree in Oklahoma and the murder of Shaima Alawadi–I think that we as Americans need to realize these are not new occurrences in our history. The Martin case has sparked a national conversation on race, and once again racism has shown its ugly face. Again, cultural blindness and mis-education are at the core of these conversations.
This past weekend I went to a Trayvon Martin march in Washington D.C., but it was not exclusively about the Martin case. I witnessed a diverse group of Americans speaking out against injustice. People told stories about injustice and how they became aware of the plight of their fellow Americans. These were stories about men and women who never received much media attention, but who met the same fate as many of our fallen brothers and sisters. At this march, with people I had never met, we had candid discussions on race and injustice in our own nation. These people not only knew of the recent Trayvon Martin case, but had a plethora of other similar stories to tell as well. Some were visibly uncomfortable, but they still showed up, participated and received support for doing so. They knew that being uncomfortable for one day would not ruin their lives, but rather spark inner growth, acceptance and the expansion of their minds.
At one point during the march, when we reached Freedom Plaza, an older white male took the microphone and said something that made my day. He said that in his younger days, he had attended a Black Panther rally in Chicago and had had an epiphany. He had come to the realization that although he loved his country, he needed to be honest with her. Realizing the innate racism that has been perpetuated since her birth, it would take people like him to change things. It would take people who were considered the “quintessential American” to join the fight for the oppressed regardless of the color of their skin. He also said that since the beginning of 2012, there have been 29 deaths of black people that he believes to be racially motivated. In the past, people rallied around the death of a life, a great injustice, or because they wanted access to the American Dream and freedom. He concluded by urging us not to let this moment dissipate and let our actions die in vain; don’t let this become a moment, but rather a movement into an American future we can be proud of.
The march expanded my mind and begged the question: is the loss of life the necessity of having hard conversations on race? Does someone have to get beaten to within an inch of their life, killed or, in the case of Troy Davis, executed in order for us to have honest conversations on race? I don’t know the answer, but what I do know is that in order for us to have an honest conversation on race, we need to re-educate the masses on race and our nation’s history of race relations. The reasons we can’t have the healthy conversations we need to have in order to progress as Americans is because we don’t know how the other side lives. We have not been informed about the injustices against the people who do not fit into the mold of the “quintessential American.” It is like trying to have a conversation on basketball when we have no history or knowledge of the rules of the game, the greats, the triumphs or even the players. A national conversation on race is pointless if we have to keep starting over. It is going to take more than the voices of the oppressed this time, as it did last time and the time before that.
I implore you to take an interest in something that you may find to be “uncomfortable.” Take a chance to get to know the plight of groups of people who might not look like you, especially if they are your fellow Americans. We find comfort among those who are similar to ourselves and growth among those who aren’t. I am hopeful that you did not come to college simply to meet people like you, stay ensconced in your comfort zone and never have to encounter difference. As a black male who has only had a handful of white friends until college, I gave difference a chance, and I am glad I did. I know you might feel uncomfortable for a period of time, but I promise you will grow and expand your mind to the greater nature of America and its diversity.