THE BLOG
07/17/2013 02:58 pm ET | Updated Sep 16, 2013

Being Visible for Trayvon

Black boys and black men are conditioned to be invisible. Our visibility scares folk. It scares white people and many "respectable" black people too. It scared George Zimmerman. And George Zimmerman killed Trayvon Martin because of his fear, and because of the cowardice fixed to his special type of being afraid.

In my opinion, Trayvon Martin was profiled on the night that he was killed. There is little room for debate here. And on Saturday night six jurors in Sanford, Florida indicate for us, with direction from the court, that it is all right to think that a 17-year-old black boy is a threat just for being a black boy. It is okay to shoot him through the heart, to end his life. It is legal to do it. It is justified, even if that black boy is an innocent, a child strapped with a beverage and a pack of candy. That mistake gets a pass.

The psychology here is twisted. But as novelist Ralph Ellison explained so precisely, "they see only my surroundings, themselves, or figments of their imagination-indeed, everything and anything except me." This is the real, the everyday of being a black man. We all know it, even if only deep down all covered up. Nonetheless, we play this disjointed dance of democracy and justice for all, and for us -- black men and black boys -- if we step like you do.

But we are not "you." We are whole people, human beings with lived experiences that are of value, and different, and sometimes the same as everyone else, no matter we know that black men and black boys are understood to be a threat to everyone else. We deserve justice. Trayvon Martin and his family, and those who more squarely fit the stereotypes of your fear deserve justice. Fear of "them," of me, fear of my son, is a psychosocial distance maintained that has nothing to do with the object on which you project your insecurities. It has to do with you.

This is real. But it is easier to kill Trayvon, Oscar, Emmett, and to make it just within the democracy that we say blankets all of us than to examine our broken sense of self and relation to community. To do this we have to wrestle our fear of authentic visibility, black and white and others, lest we be slave to an inauthentic self, and continue a cycle that hurls us toward being more and more inhuman.

"What are you without racism?" Toni Morrison rhetorically asked Charlie Rose some years ago in a sit-down on his television show. We do well to follow her inquiries, "Are you any good? Are you still strong, still smart? Do you still like yourself?"

It is important to understand the racist context that is standard fare for the United States as it relates to black men and boys. A knock-knock joke in the opening for the defense; the sidewalk is Trayvon's weapon; a social media-circulated photo with the tag "we beat stupidity celebration cones" that echoes lynching parties; the not guilty verdict, this is the respect that the Florida judicial system afforded Trayvon Martin's loss of life. This is not a metaphor for the racism that black boys and men consistently negotiate; it is the racism that we negotiate because our lives, clearly, depend on it. Those who argue counter are quite simply ignorant of the institutional and cultural contours that define the construct of racism and of being a racist.

Now there comes the work that many of us appear ready to undertake, to recommit to. The work to be visible is necessary, to step beyond the easy stereotypes that we play to, or that you affix to others because it is difficult to know that you were wrong, and racist, and that you built and operate within a faux democracy that makes a killing all right. Social media reflect work being done, the healing that comes through venting and reaction. Plans for actionable social justice and personal accountability are taking place. Rallies on Sunday in New York City, Philadelphia, San Francisco, Los Angeles, Chicago, Washington, D.C., Atlanta and other cities across the country demonstrate a momentum against the terrible wrong found in the Martin case that threatens the liberties of us all.

The work is difficult. It hurts to be visible when invisibility is the rule. But the heavy work is necessary if we really want the legal killing for just being a black boy to stop.

In the name of Trayvon Martin, I look forward to the work.