I was at a bar when I got the news -- George Zimmerman not guilty. My friend immediately burst into tears, and I, well, I did what I normally do in these situations -- I went numb. That's no fun on a Saturday night.
Not numb like Novocaine shot into a painful toothache, but close. A sort of pre-meditated, soothing reaction to a seemingly unexpected situation. Ah yes, another black man's life taken too soon, for little reason, and for the cost of maintaining a system that stands on the weak legs of stereotypes.
I could rehash the facts, the idea that a boy left the house to get a snack and wound up dead. But facts don't move people as much as emotion. People's reactions to this case are chock full of anger, hatred, confusion, gratitude, mourning, and epiphany -- the deepest epiphany being the society we live in wears the hand me downs of Jim crow, racial profiling, and fear mongering.
Let's go back 25 years. That's when I was born, and boy was I a cute ass baby if I do say so myself. Entering the world in the late '80s was a great time -- Ninja Turtles, big hair, questionable kid's toys, and the Power Rangers were still classic and not trying to go to outer space. I, like most babies, had no way to interpret the world besides drooling and biting all over everything.
As the years went by, one salient fact was learned really fast -- I was "different." Regardless of how I felt inside, people would see me and assume things about me based solely on how I look. We all experience judgment to some degree but riddle me this -- when you walk into a room, do you assume people there may attribute your actions, speech, and clothing to represent an entire group of people? That your intellect (or lack thereof) will be related to your "race"? That whatever interactions you have with people will shape their perceptions of others for the rest of their lives? If you're white, probably not.
I've had the privilege and burden of speaking for an entire group of people -- black people -- because there was no one else from that group in the room. This fact isn't out of the norm, a majority of people in America live a large amount of their lives in isolation -- socializing, working, loving, and friending people who look like them and are from their same background.
The problem with this fact is most of the U.S. as a whole is fairly diverse -- and without direct interaction with people different than us, we make assumptions about why things are the way they are, or why people are the way they are.
Thus the Zimmerman mentality is born -- a person who is black and wears certain clothes is to be mistrusted and equated as a criminal on first judgment. As a person raised in a majority white environment I had the privilege of experiencing parts of the Zimmerman mentality first hand, with lovely experiences such as:
● minding my own 1st grade business on the playground, only to be told I can't be played with because I was black
● being followed in a hair store and told to leave for no apparent reason
● having my teachers ask me to give my honors awards to other kids because they weren't used to not being first
● having my tender braids and hair pulled because it looked "weird" and "different"
● being gaped at everywhere I went
● having my favorite teacher in high school tell me I would have to "rob a bank" upon hearing I got accepted to Cornell University
● having people tell me the only reason I got into Cornell was affirmative action, which of course makes total sense given my 3.9 GPA and being in the top 10 percent of my class
● being pulled over by the police for "wiggling my car" on the highway, and luckily not getting a ticket because my father was in the passenger seat and said he would press charges
● having the police called on our home numerous times with no real complaint, even when we weren't home. My mother came back from dropping me off at the airport to go to school once and was greeted by police upon return (really!?)
● overhearing my uncles teach my cousins how to walk, talk, and act so they wouldn't be perceived as a threat
● having to constantly be conscious of what I said, how I felt, how I dressed, and how I was perceived because it could get me in a lot of trouble
The list goes on and on, but I say all this to say, what if I had taken the whole of those experiences, and assumed everyone I met who didn't look like me, would treat me this way? That would be crazy right? You can't take bad experiences or bad conversations and use them to generalize an entire group -- oh wait that's what happened with Zimmerman. I don't know a ton about him, but I do know he had preconceived notions and assumptions that led to this tragedy. Trayvon was a victim of assumptions -- his face, his hair, his eyes, and his clothing were assumed to be something to be feared, and justified his death. But Trayvon isn't just a black "thing" to be feared. He's a human, and a life that was lost for no reason.
This shit is tiring. I'm exhausted, and I'm tired of having to be numb. Numb to the point where I can hardly speak. And afraid that we aren't really looking at the true problems here: mistrust and misinformation. I urge you not just to walk in someone else's shoes -- run. Run hard and fast. Maybe stumble a little and get back up, then you'll probably change your mind about why those shoes are the way they are in the first place. Really think about the justifications we're making when we say some people's lives have less value than others because they have a little more melanin in their skin. That's truly crazy, and it's unacceptable.
To all my homies in my homestate of Utah who are posting crazy memes, propaganda and are scared, start reading, go outside of your comfort zone, and really start living. Actually, start with this video and skip to 2:25