I was an undergraduate student at Virginia Commonwealth University (VCU) when I heard the news about Trayvon Martin. This story shook me to my core. This Black boy walking home was followed, fought, and gunned down over someone else’s fear and biases. Admittedly, when I was younger and being the daughter of two devout Southern Christians who believed in respectability, I was largely unaware of how much hatred was intrinsically woven into the fabric of America. I wrongly and blindly believed in the popular quotes of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. without studying his whole message. I assumed that if a person did their best, then they could be their best without acknowledging the factors that inhibit success for people who are a different color, religion, race, sex, sexuality, gender, etc. I was at a changing point in my life where I was beginning to question everything, including the things that I believed. My mind could not wrap itself around how this was even allowed to happen.
Still disturbed and still not as aware, I posted an ignorant message on Facebook about Trayvon Martin that basically said the Black community could lift itself up through bootstrap politics and respectability. An old friend named Janae commented on the post and very lovingly dragged me to let me know why what I was saying was wrong. She recommended some things for me to read and so, I read. I read and thought deeply about what was bothering me so much about this case that kept me from sleeping. I read about institutionalized racism, misogyny, intraracial misogyny, intersectionality, and internalized racism. I read the black voices on these issues and struggled with my own voice on the issues. I kept questioning why I believed what I believed and actively worked hard to correct my own ignorance, biases and tried to understand my intersectional power privileges and struggles. For this, for Janae, I am forever grateful for the lessons.
Once I began to understand, I became more and more outraged. I went with my roommates to the protest that was happening in front of the Commons at VCU. I called my parents and let them know where I was headed and they were scared that something would happen to me at the protest. They urged me not to go. I went anyways. It was cold and I felt the chill and anger in the air every time I inhaled and I felt my heart break a little more every time I exhaled. My roommate and I listened to poetry that was written by local students, we chanted, we marched, we went home, and we discussed. I went to bed that night awaiting the trial because there was still a sliver of false hope in me that believed in the American justice system. At the time, I did not want to believe that “blind justice” meant that the humanity of Black and Brown people were not seen.
“To be a negro in this country and to be relatively conscious is to be in a rage almost all the time.” — James Baldwin
A little over a year had passed since Trayvon Martin died and I was in New York City doing my internship with CA Creative and living in Brooklyn. I stayed in an international housing program that allowed me to rent my room for cheap. My roommates alternated about every two or three weeks depending on their stay. Because there was no tv in my room, most of the times where I was not with friends or out exploring, my time was spent inside reading and thinking. I got an alert on my phone that reminded that the Zimmerman trial was on so I live-streamed it from my laptop. I watched and waited while I was looking at this man who had not a single ounce of remorse sit here while the media and the lawyers put Trayvon on trial for his own murder.
They scrutinized what Trayvon wore and how he wore it. They picked apart the grammar, presentation, and attitude of his friend Rachel Jeantel. Nothing about this case was about the man who disobeyed police orders, stalked a child, and killed him. Nothing about George Zimmerman’s character was up for debate. His defense team painted him as a victim who was screaming for his life. Everything about this trial was making the victim the cause for his own death because racism is excused as a lapse of judgment.
The sun was setting outside and I sat on the bed awaiting the final verdict for Zimmerman nervously texting my friends while my current roommate was working on something for her internship. It took a jury just sixteen short hours to find Zimmerman not guilty. I felt my stomach knot up and I cried. My roommate knew what was happening but she didn’t care because she said it wasn’t that big of a deal and that Martin should have just done what he was told. I couldn’t address her because I was in shock at the verdict and that she sounded like what I had sounded like not too long before this trial. My phone rang and I talked to my friends about it until I could lay down. This day sat in the darkest part of my mind ever since; an unforgettable reminder that I can be Black or human, but never both.
With his freedom, Zimmerman threatened his wife with a gun, was removed from a bar for yelling at a waitress, followed someone in a car during a road rage incident, and stalked a private investigator. It’s almost as if this man is inherently violent with a control issue. He also started painting confederate flags and selling them with a gun seller named Andy Hallinan who is notoriously anti-Muslim. It’s almost as if this man is racist and believes in racist ideologies. Who would have guessed?
Jay-Z produced a docu-series entitled “Rest in Power: The Trayvon Martin Story”, the first of these episodes aired last night. What was present from the opening scene to the very last scene of this episode is the pain that still encompasses the Martin family and the Black community. Sybrina Fulton, Trayvon’s mother, said that she was told she could either grieve or fight because if she chose to grieve, she would move further and further from justice. So, in her talking, breathing, blinking in the camera, doing this documentary because she’s still fighting, you can feel her pain. Tracy Martin, Trayvon’s father, is in pain and is still fighting.
From the footage of protests that happened all over the country in support of Trayvon Martin’s family, one unidentified Black woman with short blonde hair shouted into the camera with pain in her voice, “I AM ANGRY!” As she is, so am I. This is why she, Trayvon’s parents, and the community still fights. We are angry. I look forward to watching the following episodes of “Rest in Power: The Trayvon Martin Story” because the filmmakers and editors did a great job of capturing the grief that was not afforded to the Martin family and the enduring pain that the justice system leaves in the lives of people it does not see.
The next episode airs Monday, August 6, 2018, at 10 pm.
“Some problems we share as women, some we do not. You fear your children will grow up to join the patriarchy and testify against you; we fear our children will be dragged from a car and shot down in the street, and you will turn your backs on the reasons they are dying.” — Audre Lorde