It seems a great deal of energy is being spent trying to remove “race” as a factor in the shooting death of Florida teenager Trayvon Martin. The refusal to acknowledge race is not only the spin of conservatives but also some progressives who are trying to be “progressive” and are pushing the line that Trayvon’s death has nothing to do with race. Did we miss something here? Without calling Trayvon’s killer George Zimmerman a racist, it is beyond belief that anyone could claim race was not a factor in the killing of this innocent teenager. How many young white males fall victim to such random acts of violence as they casually go about their business? The painful truth is that the life expectancy of adult Black males is compromised by society’s warped perception of Black boys.
Progressives are taking the “it’s not about race” line to try to appear fair and respond to the race-baiting on the right. Instead of retreating on race, as we always do, Trayvon Martin’s death is a moment in which we need to fully engage the issue of how young Black men are perceived, treated and discarded. Justice for Trayvon cannot simply be the arrest of George Zimmerman; it must be the acknowledgement of a deeper rooted truth about how race still conditions how people of color are treated in America. Some suggest that George Zimmerman could not have been affected by race because he is Hispanic. Well, some of the police officers convicted in the Danziger Bridge shooting in New Orleans in which innocent Black residents were killed and injured were African-American. Bernie Madoff is Jewish and took advantage of Jews in his financial fraud. John Allen Muhammad, the infamous DC sniper was African-American, but did not spare Blacks from his terror. The race of the accused does not disqualify race as a factor in consideration of the motivation behind their behavior. Sometimes self-hatred is deeply rooted and manifests in the mistreatment of people who are reflected in the mirror of the perpetrators of injustice.
We learn nothing; gain nothing if we cower from the discussion of race in the killing of Trayvon Martin. The attempt to sweep race under the rug should be fought against, and the complaint that there is too much focus on Trayvon Martin should be dismissed. It is only when America is forced to confront its ugliness that we have witnessed significant positive change in our country. The rhetoric of the right and the surrender of the left on addressing the impact of racism on African-Americans is nothing new. It is common whenever these tragedies occur for there to be immediate sympathy and equally swift backlash against any attempt to discuss the possibility that race could be a factor. It brings to mind the James Byrd incident when there was a concerted effort to suggest that his being an African-American had nothing to do with his horrific murder. It is precisely this practice of denial that prevents our nation from moving forward.
We have witnessed the attempt to suggest Trayvon provoked his own death because he was wearing a hoodie. Likewise, we have listened to folks who should know better like Fox News commentator Juan Williams criticize African-Americans for not being equally concerned about so-called “Black on Black” crime. Williams must be drinking the water over at Fox News because in communities across the country African-Americans have been waging a campaign against violence while his network grandstands on issues like gun control. Moreover, is anyone concerned when whites like the Columbine killers and Tim McVeigh murder mostly white victims? Equally outrageous is the trend of blaming the manner of dress of young Black men for their violent end. We might not approve of the attire of young Black men, but it does not give anyone the right to shoot them like animals nor should they have to alter their appearance for the right to live.
We are choosing to ignore the stupidity of the talking heads on right-wing cable television and talk radio, and the insensitivity of politicians and political hacks. Our focus is on justice; not just for Trayvon Martin but for the many young African-American men who daily make unfair accommodations to simply survive. The era when Blacks had to cower, lower their heads, and avoid eye contact is over. We refuse to be apologetic for our justified rage over the injustice suffered by Trayvon Martin. America might not want to talk about race, but our intent is to join with others to force the discussion.