I think a lot about the jury statements after the George Zimmerman verdict. One juror said: “Trayvon decided he wasn’t going to let him scare him and got the one-up on him. I think Trayvon got mad and attacked him [Zimmerman].” Why does Trayvon’s possible anger result in someone needing to defend themselves to the point of taking his life? Why didn’t the juror see Trayvon’s fear? Trayvon was being stalked by a large white man in the middle of the night in America. Perhaps Trayvon feared for his life. Despite the fact that he was a teenager and Zimmerman a larger older man, it is likely the jurors found it easy to believe Trayvon was the threat not Zimmerman. One need only say the black boy was big or a petty criminal or angry for the story of self-defense to be believable. “I feared for my life” requires no qualification if the possible culprit is a black man. Being black is the weapon being wielded in these scenarios and simply facing a black man is a viable excuse to use deadly force. This fear is a part of the structure of racism that allows for the selective application of the law and thus allows for continued oppression. This violence against the black body is not only done by one man or one institution, but instead is further supported and propagated by those who “understand why he was afraid”.
I think we need to bring this fear out into the open. After seeing me upset, one of my white friends asked me how I was feeling and how she can support me. I told her to do her best to have meaningful conversations with other white folks in her life. Much in the way we talk about other dangerous stereotypes, white allies could play a role by supporting other white folks to express their thoughts. White folks can take the first step by not derailing conversations but by seeing where their prejudices lie. They can then have discussions with one another about ways to increase motivation to control prejudice, perhaps relating it to their core values and (inspiring more significant change. By having those white allies who would like to support black communities take the lead on this front, Black folks are not burdened with having to also be responsible for teaching white folks about oppression as allies like: Jon Stewart have shown us. This discussion must go beyond the Whiteness project, and extend to supporting each other to both acknowledge and overcome the biases.
As black people we also have work to do. We can address our own implicit bias and trust that these issues are surmountable, that we CAN make progress. I’ll admit, after last week’s slap in the face with Eric Garner, my first instinct was to move to Canada. But in order for things to be better for black folks in environments where we have historically been oppressed, our active belief in the ability of the system to change is vital to the process. I’ve decided to do my part by being hopeful and being involved in criminal justice in 2015 and beyond. I’ll end with a thought experiment. Let’s say that each one of those police officers is a human being like you are with strengths weaknesses fears and biases. Let’s say each one of the victims were too.