“Trayvon Martin and the Fatal History of American Racism”

I am Trayvon Martin.

So are you. And so is any human being who has ever felt cornered, in a dark and desolate alley, between life and death. Add the grim reality of skin color in America, and you have the disastrous spectacle of 250lb George Zimmerman, 28, pursuing 140lb Trayvon, 17, until that man-child is screaming “Help!” – and then gasping for air after a bullet from Zimmerman’s 9mm handgun had punctured his chest. A majority-white, gated community became, on 26 February, the makeshift mortuary for a black boy who will not get a chance to live, to go to college with his exceptional high school grades, to make something of his life. Trayvon’s fatal act: a mundane walk to the nearby convenience store to buy a can of iced tea and a bag of Skittles.

This is what racism, the American version of it, means to black boys like Trayvon, to black men like me. That we often don’t stand a chance when it has been determined, oftentimes by a single individual acting as judge and jury, that we are criminals to be pursued, confronted, tackled, and, yes, subdued. To be shocked and awed into submission.

The police authorities in Sanford, Florida, where the shooting occurred, are apparently so mired in racial prejudice and denial that George Zimmerman, at this writing, still has not been arrested nearly a month after Trayvon was killed – in spite of Zimmerman being told, on 911 police dispatch audio, not to follow Trayvon Martin.

In spite of Zimmerman being charged in 2005 with resisting arrest with violence and battery on a police officer. In spite of Zimmerman calling the police 46 times since January 2011. In spite of Zimmerman, according to neighbors, being fixated on bracketing young black males with criminality. In spite of Zimmerman being the subject of complaints from neighbors in his gated community due to his aggressive tactics. In spite of the officer in charge of the crime scene also receiving criticism in 2010 when he initially failed to arrest a lieutenant’s son who was videotaped attacking a homeless black man. In spite of Zimmerman violating major principles of the Neighborhood Watch manual (the manual states: “It should be emphasized to members that they do not possess police powers. And they shall not carry weapons or pursue vehicles.”)

In spite of Zimmerman not being a member of a registered group, which police were not aware of at the time of the incident. And in spite of the Sanford, Florida police failing to test Zimmerman for drugs or alcohol. (A law enforcement expert told ABC that Zimmerman sounds intoxicated on the 911 tapes, and that drug and alcohol testing is “standard procedure in most homicide investigations”.)

Finally, what was a man like George Zimmerman doing with a gun in the first place? And will Florida’s very controversial “stand your ground” self-defense law prevent Zimmerman from ever being prosecuted, especially as he and his lawyers are claiming he was protecting himself from harm?

Finally, does any of the above truly matter, if the shooter has white skin and the victim’s is brown?

We’ve heard, since President Obama came into office, that we suddenly, miraculously, live in a “post-racial” America, that there now is such a thing as “post-blackness”. Try telling that to the families of Trayvon Martin. Or Ramarley Graham. Or Sean Bell. Or Oscar Grant. Or Amadou Diallo. Or Emmett Till. Or the Scottsboro Boys. And numberless others in modern US history.

Racism remains the greatest cancer of American society, and has been since the founding of this nation – by men who owned slaves. You cannot slaughter and push from the land Native Americans, enslave black people, harass and marginalize Asians, Latinos and Jews, and scapegoat immigrant white ethnics and Arabs through your long and tumultuous history, then wonder how the killing of Trayvon Martin could happen in the first place? The former is the context for the latter.

We, most of us, have been socialized to fear and demonize difference, the other. Trayvon’s murder is of a piece with hysterical and overzealous anti-immigration policies and new voter ID laws that recall the days of segregation and harsh American racial apartheid. Left unchecked, as George Zimmerman has been left unchecked, and you perpetuate this ugly national tragedy.

American racism is not merely a distortion of human psychology that teaches the George Zimmermans of our nation to see Trayvon Martin as nothing more than a criminal; it is also the debilitating disease that allows us, on the one hand, to denounce the alleged atrocities of Kony in faraway Africa we’ve seen in that ubiquitous viral video, and on the other, to overlook the Trayvon Martins, just as we ignore the routine stop-and-frisk harassment of legions of black and Latino young males.

We are trapped in the stereotyping that saw my friend’s son being told by his teacher in Fairfax County, Virginia recently, as he reciited a Langston Hughes poem, that he needed to read it “blacker”. The stereotyping that allows us to cheer loudly for the majority-black college basketball teams during March Madness, yet won’t permit us to pay attention to Trayvon Martin’s parents, clearly shattered, pleading for some shred of justice.

The Justice Department’s intervention is welcome, if belated. But it is American racism that constrains our leaders, like President Barack Obama and Attorney General Eric Holder, from speak forcibly and publicly about this destructive cancer for fear of alienating “regular” folks. If the president could call on Sandra Fluke considering the insult she’d received from Rush Limbaugh, we should be able to expect him to offer his condolences to Martin’s parents for the grevious injury they have received.

For the sake of Trayvon Martin, and the Trayvon Martins who never had this sort of mass outcry, something must be done. But if we choose to turn our ears and hearts away from his parents and his community, then Trayvon Martin’s blood will be on the hands of this entire nation. Will we ignore that call for help, as Trayvon’s went unheeded?

36 Responses to ““Trayvon Martin and the Fatal History of American Racism””

  1. Guest

    the dude that killed him aint white he’s hispanic and no one is reporting that. I wonder why? A black and brown fued is not that intresting i guess? or mabye this is a distraction to take ya attention away from other deeper issues. Too bad a kid died so people can attack all the wrong targets…you should be aiming first at the local police department then the killer,then the media and government for exploting this kids death, his family,and race relations.

      • Tammy Welch

        @Loch121 what does being mixed have to do with it We all know that spanish have the same prejudices as whites when it comes to black males dnt get me started. and I’m sure he wsnt living his hispanic heritage calling a black kid coon or sayin they always get away hmmm….

      • Loch121

        because somebody had said he was all Hispanic.Some Hispanics hate blacks, but they are niggas too when you get down to genetics.

      • Brunodaking

        White mixed with Hispanic? Definately Nigga. Gotta be 100% white to be considered white in these neck of the woods….

      • Mayrene

        Sure, Hispanics hate Blacks & White hate Blacks & Black hate Whites. All races/ethnic groups hate each other. Don’t act like Black people don’t hate Hispanics too. You are ALL arguing about what race the shooter is when that’s irrelevant. the point is that a teenage boy died and the shooter is out on the streets. What are you all fighting for, justice or each other?

    • anemia716

       How is the kid’s death being exploited?  Do you know was exploited means?  There is a difference between exposure and exploitation.  In order for this child’s death to get exploited, some party has to gain.  In this case, who is the party that is gaining?  There is none!  Think before you type.

      • Guest

        al sharpton and the naacp dont show up for free.and watch how this shifts from a tragic murder of a 17 year old to gun control and the media for get about yo, and thye protesters go home and forget about all of the black kid who get killed everyday but its not a real missue because the person that killed them looks like them.but i agree with you i should think before i type,but people should think before they march because if they really cared about black youth beig gunned down they would be marching everyday and not beacuse another race had something to do with it.

    • Romia Blue

      Hitler’s grandfather was Jewish…does his mixed racial background make it any more or less racists what he did during the holocaust?

      Basically what I’m trying to say is your argument didn’t make sense. At first glance Zimmerman is of european decent…German to be exact so like everybody, he’s got a lot of racial make-up. Unless you know for a fact what Zimmerman’s racial background is, keep your ignorance to a minimum.

      The entire city covered this up…point blank period.

      • Sexy_Sabe

        thank you, for ur comment.  i knew somebody was gon get on here tryin to argue about his entire racial makeup. He was biracial, whatever he still wasnt black so it couldve an imo was still a hate crime an racism was the driving factor. Ppl are so ignorant its sickening.

      • Guest

        im not saying he isn’t a racist. im saying the media made it a black white issue and the real issue is the police covering up a murder and a killer on the loose.

  2. shakazaiyah

    for Trayvon



    A black teen murdered

    I apologize for not being there

    with a loaded gun in my hands

    Although you may think no one heard you

    I heard you and hear you loud and clear

    Crying out for help

    Your last words



    We are vulnerable

    My heart goes out to your mother

    Tears can’t explain

    My heart goes out to your father

    and family

     What can I do to make this end?

    Maybe what we haven’t done

    The means justifies the end

    In this land

    My heart goes out to all the people

    You will never know that care for you

    That fights for you everyday


    Your death will
    not be in vain

    If I were there

    If we were there

    If your mother was there

    We would have done something

    I would have done something

    I still want to do something

    I have to do

    Your death will not

    Die in vain; it will be in our pain

    Our strength, our cause, in our names

    We will not stand for this any longer


    No black child is

    If we send no message

    Are we that soft?

    I ponder with concern

    Hours have gone by

    Little brother,

     Whatever your Wishes

     This has come to
    an end

    You are not the only one

    Who has died or will die

    This is war my little friend

    Where black women cry

    And black men die

    It has been this way

    For a while now


    You are part of
    the reminder

    One that reignites the souls of black folk

     And I wonder

    Did you ever know Malcolm X?

    He died like you

    From a bullet


    By racist hands

    Racist systems

    And racist plans


    He only wanted
    skittles and tea

    I like skittles too Tray and sweet tea

    Yet we die because refuse to kill

    How does that make
    you feel?

    Angry or scared

    Others have died as well

    How does that make you feel?

    Angry or scared?

    I feel anger nothing more

    • Sexy_Sabe

      wow im in tears reading this post. It was heartfelt, deep an honest. Everything you wrote, needed to be said. This is truly a tragedy, what happened to Trayvon an something has to be done. Thank you for writing this post, im sure trayvon is in heaven saying ty too.

  3. daveofthematthews

    I am a white male from the UK, i see this story 2 days ago and at first i thought there had to be more to this story than i was initially led to believe but the more time that passes i have to say that racism and discrimination still seem to be the only reasoning behind this tragic crime. It’s ridiculous i even have to say this but i honestly think that until we all meet an alien race of some kind Racist people will always infect the human race because there are just too many people out there that are frankly that stupid and pathetic.  

  4. Quoted99

     “There were 806,316 homicides in the US between 1965 and 2004, and
    588,611 of them were committed by blacks, of which 179,808 were blacks
    who murdered Whites. 322,526 of these homicides were not cleared, and
    only 483,790 were cleared, and of those Whites murdered by blacks,
    43,541 were cleared and 136,267 were not cleared. In just four decades,
    American blacks killed almost as many Whites as were killed in WWII,
    four times as many Whites as were killed in Vietnam, and 60 times as
    many Whites as were killed in 911 or Iraq”

    • Lamont McCoy

      It’s amazing how white supremacy ends up on this site, where is this false information Quoted99? Let’s entertain your thought for a minute, so if this were true what made this killing happen? Could it be the economic disparity, or effects of slavery, racial profiling, restricted voting rights, and educational opportunities disproportionate to Whites. However , if you never control anything ,how can you change the way people look at you? Quoted99 ignorance in your case my fellow American, is not bliss.,please try taking a history class to gain facts on the black codes(only for African Americans), learn about the basis of that K.K. K group you support, start with the reconstruction of the Old South, and the banks history of bidding on slaves( What race do you think did that?) to the infamous point they were labeled “death merchants”. In fact, search a real academic site for statistical evidence to gain and support your erogenous thought process….it’s called GOOGLE SCHOLAR.COM! The history of America was built on racism., that’s why the aforementioned will be perpetuated further throughout history, DENIAL will never change the FACTS, but EDUCATION will!! I believe it stars with our kids at home; my 14 year old daughter  feels free to bond with all races because that’s how she was raised, but there has been some instances when she was told by other peers at school that their parents told them not to associate with black children
      (1st time in 4th grade).            

    • Brooklyn B

       because you didnt add ANY civil rights murders or murders of the black panther parties OR mention the countless of black men WRONGFULLY arrested for crimes they havenot committed shows how flaw your “stats” are. 
      but if you was providing accurate data instead of this bullshit then you wouldnt have an argument so i “get it”

  5. dominicancoke

    if hip hop should die before  i wake..
    i load extended clip’s in the glock  and go kill drake..
    gucci mane aint safe i’m patient so i’ll wait…
    run up on baby and rick ross during lil waynes wake..
    shoot diddy like they shot big i’ll leave soulja boy smoked
    run over lil b 5 times and slit niki minaj’s throat..
    im under comsumption while a-r’s im dumping
    shoot wacka flocka flame so he can join dunkin 
    mass murder thats nothing yellow tape on the scene
    for the way he robbed hip hop i’ll merk jimmy iovine
    i just bought em 600 a peace  gotta test out these glock’s
    put em to dre’s head and tell em to  go put out detox
    resort to shooting like remy ma  slick rick n cassidy
    run inside ymcmb ofices  committing a tragedy
    should i murder jay? nah he just had a new baby
    but ima kill that fagg*t kanye im gone stab em like crazy

  6. 1Imhotep_92

    Are we just going to be a one trick pony, this suff happens everyday, we have become weak, especially the blacks that say it’s not about color, i don’t know the last time this happen to any other race, including hispanic, and speaking of hispanic, hispanic has nothing to do with a race of people, it was countries that Spain rule and forced their language on the people. People from Spain are White.  Stop fooling yourself, America is hell for Blacks and no race has our back, wake up, it’s now about these social issues, It’s about a lack of black Economic.  So keep not wanting to build a great Black Economy and kissing these other races ass, and we will keep having  Tray Martin killings.  Stop letting these races manage our talent, and stop associating talent with sports and entertainment.  Sports and Entertainment have taken Blacks as far as the 2 could.

  7. Nadien Olvidalo

    First of all they’re are black hispanics as well as white and brown hispanics. In Los Angeles especially as well as San Diego, lower class Mexican Americans (Chicanos) get treated just as bad as any blacks in LA, just because they (Chicanos) are the feared minority. People from Africa dont give 2 shnits about blacks in America from the majority that I know (And I speak swahili as well). Look how Americans despise arabs, while arabs despise Africans. Arabs are “white” quite often. Hispanics that are white (trust me) are not looked upon as equal to other whites. The point is is that Blacks (wether they be french africans from Senegal, black hispanics, or Carribean blacks, or Americans) they will never stick to together as if they share some common ground, thats not going to happen. And we even have blacks in Mexico who share a slave trade history through the port of Veracruz (many I know personally). How do you tell a black hispanic to just be black? The problem itself is that too many people classify by race itself. That one black Italian soccer player couldnt even play on his hometown field in Italy, due to all the racism he’s had to deal with. Its strange how its just white against black in the U.S. but outside the U.S. in places like Jerusalem and Sudan, its so many other races at each others throats, and we dont look and see that because we’re stuck in our own circle to notice. Too many blacks and whites should be more accepting of each other, because black hispanics stick with hispanics, not with black americans. I honestly see more unity within hispanics than I do with blacks and whites combined (world wide), and thats probably, sadly enough due to the history between whites and blacks.

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