A Song For Trayvon Martin

If you’re not already familiar with all the elements of the story, Mother Jones and Think Progress have fairly thorough coverage of what happened to Trayvon Martin, the 17-year-old African-American boy who went to the 7-11 for candy and iced tea and, on his walk back home, was murdered by 28-year-old neighborhood vigilante George Zimmerman, who has not yet been arrested for his crime, nor has his Concealed Carry permit been revoked.

The police botched every step of the investigation and Zimmerman is hiding behind the “Stand Your Ground” law, which enables citizens to use deadly force if they think they’re in immediate danger, even if they had plenty of opportunities to escape said situation rather than confront it. Needless to say, George Zimmerman was not in danger, let alone immediate danger, although there’s no shortage of assholes insisting that he was. (Sidenote: Jeb Bush, the asshole responsible for the “stand your ground” laws, officially endorsed Mitt Romney today!)  The FBI, the United States Department of Justice and the U.S. Attorney announced on March 20th, after receiving a letter from the NAACP, that they’ll be undertaking “a thorough and independent review” of the case. The Florida state attorney sent the case to a grand jury, which will be called to session on April 10th. Right now, everybody with a voice is using it to speak out, demand justice, and draw attention to the virulently racist criminal “justice system” and the American culture which enables it. (Please sign this petition if you haven’t already.)

Yesterday emcee and community activist Jasiri X (the same guy who did “What If the Tea Party was Black?“) put out a new video on YouTube about Trayvon, building from Kanye West and Jay-Z’s “No Church in the Wild.” It’s chilling and touching and full of justified anger. In addition to hosting internet news series “This Week with Jasiri X” and doing his music and videos, Jasiri X is a co-founder of the anti-violence group “One Hood” and started the New Media Academy, which aims to teach young African-American boys to analyze and make their own media.

Here’s “Trayvon,” by Jasiri X:

Alyssa Rosenberg wrote, of the song, “I really like the decision to build this off of Jay-Z and Kanye West’s “No Church in the Wild.” That “What’s a king to a god? What’s a god to an unbeliever?” couplet is a nice way to get at both the power relationship between Zimmerman and Trayvon, and the enormities of justice promised and denied.”

The enormities of justice promised and denied.

I know we mostly report on LGBTQ/feminist issues and I don’t think I’m personally qualified to add anything of value to the excellent reporting done elsewhere on this tragedy, but like you I’ve been reading about it constantly, things like this and this and this and this and this and “How to Talk to Young Black Boys About Trayvon Martin,” and I wanted to post something here, to make a space to talk about it, if you want to.

It’s heartbreaking, it’s maddening, it’s America.

Trymaine Lee at The Huffington Post reported on the story when it happened three weeks ago, and continued to, and it finally captured complete national media attention last week when the Sanford Police Department released the police tapes, which are about as damning of George Zimmerman as they come. Additional notable coverage came from The New York Times‘ Charles M. Blow and The Atlantic‘s Ta-Nehisi Coates, and their words were followed by social media support from celebrities like Russell SimmonsJohn Legend and Janelle Monae.

I guess I keep coming back to the same thing over and over these past few weeks which I believe was perhaps best expressed by yoisthisracist in response to a question about Trayvon Martin: “So yeah, fuck you to everyone who believes that the levers of power, justice and politics aren’t used to perpetuate racism today, in America, in 2012.”

 

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Riese is the 33-year-old CEO, CFO and Editor-in-Chief of Autostraddle.com as well as an award-winning writer, blogger, fictionist, copywriter, video-maker and aspiring cyber-performance artist who grew up in Michigan, lost her mind in New York City, and now lives in The Bay Area. Her work has appeared in nine books including "The Bigger the Better The Tighter The Sweater: 21 Funny Women on Beauty, Body Image & Other Hazards Of Being Female," magazines including Marie Claire and Curve, and all over the web including Nerve, Bitch, Emily Books and Jezebel. She had a very popular personal blog once upon a time, and then she recapped The L Word, and then she had the idea to make this place, and now here we all are!

Riese has written 1762 articles for us.

31 Comments

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    I like how you approached writing about this. Just talking about such news (as a white person and/or someone with white privilege) should be a humbling experience… and I think you captured that.

    What took place (and what happens all the time in America and the world) is so fucked up it’s difficult to fathom and focus on. But I feel like we have to, we really have to look at this straight on without turning away, yunno?

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    do you guys think that this has the potential to actually lead to some tangible change? or is the racism of american society too ingrained for an isolated event like this (by “isolated” i don’t mean that stuff like this doesn’t happen ALL THE TIME, i mean that it so rarely gets national-level media attention) to make a difference? i dunno, i feel like most of the people who are angry about this are people who understand (at least a little bit) just how prevalent racism still is and the people whose eyes need to be opened are the people defending zimmerman. i feel profoundly sad, angry, and hopeless/pessimistic all at once. is there more we can do besides signing petitions? are there demonstrations or protests being organized? how, as a white person, can i use my privilege to the greatest effect here?

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      @pips: I would argue that incidents like this are symptoms of a larger social illness. In that sense, this incident wouldn’t have power to change attitudes all by itself. In the Martin case, there may be the chance to get a modicum of justice for the family, and maybe even lead to some policy reform on a local level. The thing is, though, changing cultural bias is a long and sustained effort, not just something that can happen overnight. As for what you can do: you can get involved in your own community, or give to organizations working on behalf of communities of color.

      In fact, I would actually be interested if any AS readers had any recommendations for organizations that we can donate to working on behalf of communities of color, and against racism.

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        Hey Miriam and Pips, these are really good questions. In regards to groups to donate to and/or learn from, I really recommend the Brown Boi Project (http://brownboiproject.org/) for LGBTQ folks) and the NCCJ in your community. The NCCJ does really important work educating and empowering youth of all colors and orientations to be change agents in real, impactful ways (I’ve faciliatated with them for years). If you don’t have one, you can donate to the St. Louis chapter, which I can personally attest is extremely important in our segregated, violent city. Feel free to message me to ask more, but here’s the link: http://www.nccjstl.org/index.html

        Also, I never underestimate the power of being a privileged ally who can speak up in situations when other white people are speaking lies and assuming no one will call them on it. It’s terribly uncomfortable when people assume I think a certain way (not knowing my partner is Black and grew up in extreme poverty, where many of my in-laws still live). Being a presence to those who just really don’t understand or who are just willfully racist is IMPORTANT. And once you start noticing the assumptions, the side remarks about “shady people” or “bad neighborhoods,” you realize just how often they get made. And you say something and it’s so awkward, but the next time it’s easier. And if you manage to say it in a way that doesn’t end conversation, then sometimes you get through to people. Most of the time you don’t, but at least people learn that such views are not as mainstream as they thought and moreover, they learn that such attitudes are not benign.

        I’m so exhausted by all this that I can’t offer much more, except to say that I do believe it’s getting better and it will get better. My parents grew up in segregated Alabama and they have taught me that history bends towards justice, though the journey can feel so slow and so very painful.

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      Talk.

      Talk to everyone. Talk to your parents and your aunts and your uncles and your cousins and every person that you know. Talk to them about racism and how it isn’t over just because black people can drink from the same water fountain as white people do. Talk to them about how black people are considered suspicious because they exist. Talk to them about how black people can not act the way that white people do without violent repercussions. Talk to them about how this isn’t just something that happened to Trayvon but that Trayvon is the story that we’re talking about, that shows what it’s actually like to be a black person.

      Find out if the state you live in has a stand your ground law and if so start talking to people about how you can convince your state government to get rid of it.

      Call your congress person and tell them that you want them to speak out against the way that the city of Sandford handled the case.

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      Oh another thing, don’t be afraid to call out a person when they say something racist. I’m really teaching myself to do this now with regards to not only racism but sexism and classism and homophobia and all the other isms and phobias that I’m opposed to. And I don’t lecture and I don’t preach. Just a quick “Don’t be racist.” or “That’s homophobic.” Usually no one questions me and just quickly apologizes when I call them out but a few times I’ve been able to start really powerful conversations about race and gender and other things because the person asks why what they said was wrong.

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    I’m glad that this story is getting so much attention, because the Sanford racist police were going to continue with the cover up and let Zimmerman go free. Even the author of the FL stand your ground law said that the statute does not protect Zimmerman. And some people still wonder why black people don’t like cops. If nothing happens to Zimmerman they should show Sanford that they mean business. No justice, No peace………make the LA riots look mild in comparison.

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      Sadly, all a riot would do is make things worse. We’re already stereotyped as being violent and wild, so having a crazy riot would just enforce that idea. Just like the whole scavenging vs looting deal that happened after Hurricane Katrina. People would ignore the point of the riots and would simply focus on it as an act of violence that’s “typical” of black people. =(

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        “I’m nonviolent with those who are nonviolent with me. But when you drop that violence on me, then you’ve made me go insane, and I’m not responsible for what I do. And that’s the way every Negro should get. Any time you know you are within the law, within your legal rights, within your moral rights, in accord with justice, then die for what you believe in. But don’t die alone. Let your dying be reciprocal. This is what is meant by equality. What’s good for the goose is good for the gander.” Malcolm X

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    I listen to a podcast called Blacking It Up and was listening to Monday's episode today while driving home from work. The opening of the podcast were two of the 911 calls followed by the Jasiri X song. I had to pull over because I was crying so hard.

    This whole thing breaks my heart and really hurts profoundly because it goes against so much that we're taught about America. This isn't the kind of thing that's supposed to happen here.

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    This comment is not meant to minimize the racism that surrounds this case, but more than anything else all I can think is “He was 17″.

    Why the fuck do we keep killing our children?

    Thank you for writing this because it gives words to the feelings that are overwhelming me.

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    This got to me in so many ways. First I was pissed as fuck and kept asking why the guy wasn’t at the very least taken in. Now I’m just really sad. They told the guy to not make contact, but yet he made contact, shot a CHILD, and hasn’t gotten in any kind of trouble. This man shot a CHILD, he shot someone’s son, is all I can think. I want to ask Zimmerman why did he feel the need to kill a young man who was going to the store and back? I want to ask him if the only reason he found Trayvon suspicious was because of Trayvon’s skin color? What is sickening is how race, a social construct that is truly nonexistent and was only invented to categorize people, can mean so much that your life can be taken over it. People wonder why minorities tend to hate cops, well this is a prime example. To make a point, I want everyone to think about how the situation would’ve been handled if it were Zimmerman who was black and Trayvon was white because I can guarantee Zimmerman would’ve been arrested immediately. Of course I knew this already, but it still breaks my heart to say that the justice system will do anything to protect the white man.

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      Just because race is a social construct doesn’t mean that race isn’t real. Race exists, just like all other social constructs (gender, sexuality) exist.

      I understand that by saying that race doesn’t exist that you’re trying to show that racism is irrational. Racism is irrational, but race is a very real experience with very real consequences and privileges. Calling it nonexistent can come across an attempt to minimize the experience.

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        Yes, Chrissie, thank you for that comment.

        Race is real: we have different skin colors on this planet and that’s not a bad thing–I think it’s quite lovely. What is socially constructed is what implications the color of one’s skin has within our community (which I’m going to say is America as a whole).

        And while the differences in skin color *shouldn’t* mean anything and the positive and negative implications of something as arbitrary as skin color *are* social constructs, those implications effect the way in which we all move through life–whether or not we’re cognizant of those effects.

        I understand the sentiment of “race doesn’t exist,” but I think it’s a bit misguided. For me, as woman of color in America, that statement comes across as one that only someone in a more privileged position would be able to make and/or believe.

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    deeply proud that autostraddle has covered this story in such a thoughtful manner.

    thank you.

    let this not end with a few weeks of coverage. just as many stood by troy davis and chanted, “we are troy davis” — we must chant, “we are trayvon martin.” chanting and blogging alone is not enough, we must continue to work towards equality and fight for the rights of ALL people and recognize the imbalance and inequalities of our system. justice is not always blind.

    “injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere”

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    this story reminded me of the fact that my parents had to sit my brother down when he was around 11, when he was still playing with video games and toys, and instruct him on how to behave if he was stopped by the police so he wouldn’t be arrested or shot. this reminds me of them telling me and the rest of my siblings which neighborhoods had a reputation for being racist so we would be careful or avoid them altogether. this reminds me of when my parents told me that when looking for a house, they wanted to buy one in a racially mixed neighborhood and not a mostly white one so there would be less of a chance of them having “problems” with their neighbors.

    i am TIRED of the racist and ignorant dumbasses defending this vigilante asshole. let’s be fucking real: this was an act of racial terrorism. a way of letting black people know that there are certain places that they are not allowed to WALK DOWN THE STREET. i’m a realistic person, so i know the issue of “walking while black” (or driving while black, etc) probably isn’t going to stop in my lifetime, but murder is murder. if pieces of shit like zimmerman want to act on their prejudices and act like they can lynch black people in the street without repercussions, that shit needs to be nipped in the bud. if for some unforseen reason this zimmerman asshole can’t be charged with murder, then they need to repeal that asinine “stand your ground” law with the quickness so that no one can ever use it as an excuse to gun down a black child in cold blood again.

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    Thank you so much for posting about this, I’ve been having so many thoughts and feelings about it. I remember when my brother started driving and my dad taught him that, if the police ever pull him over that it was important for him to turn off the engine and put his hands out the window until the officer reached the car so as not to give him any reason to suspect he was reaching for anything “dangerous”. These are not things all young men have to deal with and that is such bullshit. It makes me so angry, it frustrates me, and it makes me scared for all the young black boys I know, good kids, kids of friends, and the future that they may or may not have.

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    I’m glad you wrote this up too. I was wondering when/if the Feds were going to intervene. Then I realized that Holder probably had to carefully prepare before going into Florida because of the fallout after what happened with Professor Gates – remember, many people were “offended” just because Obama said it was stupid that Gates was arrested trying to get into his own house? And Obama had to make nice and have beer with that dumb cop (and poor Professor Gates too)? There’s so much pressure not only on the every day person to be better than, but the Obama administration too. And still this guy isn’t going to get indicted until mid-April. It’s horrifying.

    And meanwhile, at least on the LA Times comment page, there were a few comments bordering on anti-semitism speculating about the name Zimmerman, and others pointing out that he’s half-Latino…kind of like what we were talking about last week with Ravi. The “privileges” are slipping away. People who don’t care about these issues (or want to keep things as they are) will find a reason to continue not to.

    And also, meanwhile, there continue to be these strange, sympathetic reports about Robert Bales (the Sgt. who killed 16 civilians in Afganistan), even one where those who knew him described him as a “hero.” And of course that glamorous headshot that makes him look like G.I. Joe.

    IDK – it seems to me that so long as we continue this cultish worship of white male armed authority, this shit is going to keep happening in this country and out of it.

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    So excited to see this. was literally heartbroken listening to the 911 tapes.

    It took me back to hearing about the case we had here in TN. A kid did actually have a gun, but when told to drop the gun he panicked and was shot by officers. Doesn’t sound that extreme, but then you hear the details of him being shot by several officers a total of 48 times you start to get upset and a little angry. Or at least that’s what we did in the city. It never really made it big nationwide. So I’m glad that this story is seeing some light. However I really wish there was no story to be shown to others because it’s so painful and tragic.

    But this is the country where people flipped out when GOP leaders said that President Obama was going to take away our guns, even though all he suggested was tighter legislation so things like this could be prevented. Also please make note that there has been no gun laws put in place since he’s been in office.

    Also make note that this country has some really big fucking issues when it comes to race and guns. The south in particular.

    After Congresswoman Giffords got shot there were over 200 shootings in the southern states a mere four months after it happened.

    So yeah. Racism and gun laws is nothing new in the south or the rest of this country.

    Write your congress people, combat racism when you see it happen, and read up on your state gun laws and see if you agree with them.

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    Thank you, Riese, for posting about this so delicately. I’ve been following this heart-wrenching situation, and I have yet to read an article about it without crying uncontrollably. Black males die all the time, especially via guns, so what made me connect so much with Trayvon Martin’s case? The reason, I realize, is because we have all been, in some way or another, and to some extent or another, Trayvon.

    Regardless of privilege (which I am so lucky to have quite a bit of), everyone has been stereotyped and potentially bullied or harassed based on this stereotype. I grew up in a mostly white neighborhood where my parents taught me to be as “white” as possible – from the name they gave me at birth to the way I dressed, walked, talked, and even what I learned in school. As a ciswoman, it was fairly easy to emulate this stereotype. But when I moved to Chicago for college, came out of the closet, cut all my hair off, and started wearing mens clothing, I was thrown headfirst into a world so much scarier than my heteronormative female suburban experience.

    Frequently mistaken for male, I have been racially profiled on many occasions and in places you would least expect. At one point my paranoia was so extreme I would listen to the police scanners to make sure I did not fit the profile of the latest black boy the cops were fetishing over before I went out after dark. I made sure all my clothes were as tight as I could tolerate, I never wore white shoes, and I never, ever wore a solid white t-shirt.

    And I realize, by following the news from the murder of Trayvon Martin, that this in itself is a privilege. Even though I am black and get mistaken for male, I am still a woman. My appearance is amorphous. If I’m travelling through a bad place, I need only change my clothes to potentially spare me my life. Black males don’t have this option. They have no choice. None of the ways my parents taught my sisters and I to “fit in” could be helpful to my brother in the face of prejudice, let lone a racist with a loaded gun. And this, unfortunately, is the tragedy that befell Trayvon Martin. It’s sad, it’s sick, but it’s completely true. I’m not white, but still I “…will never look suspicious like Trayvon Martin” (http://globalgrind.com/node/828497).

    I really hope Zimmerman is held accountable for his actions, and I hope that people all over America can use this unfortunate event to dialog about how to prevent this in the future.

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