It is unusual for me to write about boys or men unless I am calling them to end the violence against women and girls or asking them to join us in standing up for women's rights. I realize this is probably a failure on my part, a failure of attention or empathy or time. A failure to expand my frame and point of reference, a failure to find the way to weave my struggle, my pain with the larger story of pain, to weave our struggles into the larger story of justice. But you changed all that, Trayvon. I can't stop staring at your photograph. You, at 17, the same age as my son when I adopted him because his birth mother had been murdered when he was five. The same age, that same half man, half boy, half needy, half daring face. That same playfulness, cleverness, sadness, anger, unreachable boy/man loneliness. I stare at your photograph and imagine my son lying in the mean streets dead, a spilled can of soda at his head. But there was something else that triggered my outrage, my heartbreak, my solidarity when the verdict to free George Zimmerman was announced last week.
I am not you. I am not Trayvon Martin. I will never know what it feels like to live in the skin, in the daily rhythms and predeterminations of a black boy or man in America. I will never know what it is like to always be held suspect, to feel categorized from birth as dangerous. But as a woman, there are things I do know and things that I have experienced that bring us into the same story, the same struggle. I know for example what it is like to walk the streets, any streets, (particularly at dusk or dark) and be totally vulnerable, in trepidation and terror. I know what it's like to be worried about being followed, to speed up my step or slow down and pretend to be casual. It's a pity the prosecutors were unable to communicate your terror to the all-female jury, as we would hope they would have connected. I know what it feels like to be attacked or raped and be blamed for it because of what I was wearing (hoodie =short skirt). I know what it is like to be someone whose opinions and experience are essentially perceived as inferior and untrustworthy. I know what it feels like to be told I am to blame for violence inflicted on me by the way I walk or look or carry myself or time of day I go out. I know how it feels to be blamed for talking back, defending myself (see recent story of Marissa Alexander, who fired warning shots in the air against her abusive husband and got 20 years in prison), or making an angry or upsetting grimace (the police in Miami have not articulated any legitimate basis for jumping on 14-year-old Tremaine McMillian, throwing him to the ground, placing him in choke hold, and terrorizing him until he urinated on himself. The assertion was that he gave the officers "dehumanizing stares" or looked at them in a "menacing" way). I know what it's like to have the law stacked against me or the culture surrounding the law used to diminish my moral character, if not erase it, before I step into the box. I know what it's like to be alone, disbelieved, and in pain.
I have met many George Zimmermans. I know them intimately. The broken men who are full of a simmering explosive rage, determined by poverty or shame or violence or humiliation or low self esteem. The men with unexamined history and closed hearts. The men who are just waiting for a target, an excuse, and we are both easy targets as we are so easily discounted, disappeared and disbelieved. I know these men, and many of them have patterns of committing violence against women before they commit murders or other violence. George Zimmerman has already allegedly stalked and slapped a woman and allegedly molested a little girl before he got to killing you. I know if we lived in a world where these crimes against women were taken seriously and men were held accountable, maybe crimes, like the one against you, would have been prevented.
I know that guns do not serve either one of us and that guns in the hands of broken men looking for an excuse to express their rage is a sure path to our destruction. I know that this violence, these guns, this domination, keeps us forever divided in our own wounds, stories, victimhoods, unable to find a frame or empathy to connect with the bigger story and struggle.
This February 14, 2014, women and men will rise all over the planet for justice, One Billion Rising for Justice, for an end to violence against women, for an end to the humiliation and degradation of men which leads to violence. We will rise for an end to guns and Stand Your Ground laws where unarmed 17-year-olds are shot down dead. We will rise to say Justice involves the whole story -- the story of race, of class, of gender. Our struggles are one.
I am rising for you, Trayvon, and for all the Black boys who have been determined guilty before they took their first breath. I am rising so your death is not in vain. I am rising for Rachel Jeantel, your friend who spoke the truth at your trial and was minimized and dismissed because of her size and color and gender and class. I am rising for Marissa Alexander, that she may be set free. And I am rising for George Zimmerman and all the George Zimmermans, that they may see themselves and take responsibility for their actions with or without the pressure of the courts. That they may put down their guns and get the much-needed help to stop directing their self-hatred out in racist, sexist, homophobic ways that take lives, destroy hearts, families and communities.
I am rising for a justice that is contingent on you rising, Trayvon and all the boys with tender hearts and big dreams in their hoodies.