I’ve reached a strange crossroads in the Trayvon Martin killing, and the acquittal of his killer, George Zimmerman.
I don’t want to hear about the case, or read the dissertation-length essays about what the not guilty verdict means to black people. Nor do I want to hear about how the prosecution team dropped the ball, or questions about how juror B37 even made it through jury selection. From start to finish, Trayvon’s story, and the long suffering of his parents, have only made me angry and frustrated and sad and hopeless. The verdict is just the final nail in the clichéd coffin.
I describe myself as at a crossroads because, as much as I want to, I still can’t stop myself from clicking on any story with Martin or Zimmerman’s name attached. I think I’m searching for something to make me feel better about the verdict, or someone to provide some grasp of exactly what happened to produce this verdict, an understanding that eludes those who are dissatisfied with it.
That’s why I could not resist clicking on a link that was sent to me in a recent tweet about a new Tumblr site that’s gone viral: We Are Not Trayvon Martin.
Origins of “We Are Not Trayvon Martin”
The site, started by Joseph Phelan, a white man, on Sunday, hours after he heard the verdict, invites others to share how they are not like Trayvon Martin. Specifically, it is a space for people to share how their race leaves them feeling safe rather than vulnerable.
“I don’t need to be Trayvon Martin to know that what happened to him, and James Byrd, and countless other Black men is simply wrong,” Phelan wrote in his initial post. (Byrd was murdered by white supremacist in 1998.) “I don’t have to be Trayvon Martin to stand with those who are Trayvon and say enough is enough.”
In short, We Are Not Trayvon Martin has morphed into a roster of mostly white Americans acknowledging their undeserved white privilege, how it protects them in every facet of their lives, and just how wrong it is that black people are treated differently. What the site is not, as Phelan told JetMag.com, is a place for “White folks to whine.”
White users acknowledge racial privilege
And to his credit, they’re not. We Are Not Trayvon Martin is one of the rare circumstances in which someone had the good intent to tackle a controversial subject in an unconventional way and it actually comes across well. The participants recognize that — in opposition to the denials of Juror B37 — race played a significant factor in this case, and that it is not okay.
“I am a 25 year old white girl,” wrote one user.“ I have been caught smoking weed in public multiple times and am always let off without a charge because white girls aren’t seen as threatening and the drug war isn’t designed to put people who look like me in jail. I long for a day when all people are treated equally, but realize we have a very long way to go.”
Another user who included his picture wrote, “As a white man, I am part of the racial and gender demographic most likely to commit a violent crime, and the least likely to go to jail for it… I don’t carry the burden of representing all those who look like me, all that came before, and all that will come after. I am not Trayvon Martin.”
Some decry site as white intrusion
Of course, not everyone is happy about the We Are Not Trayvon Martin site. Some view Phelan’s project as a way for non-black people to insert themselves into a conversation that has little to do with them.
Still, We Are Not Trayvon Martin hosts an important and necessary conversation. Injustice can’t be stamped out until it is actually recognized. The site is actually hopeful too, a welcome reprieve from some of the understandably fatalistic essays I’ve read lately that state there’s no hope for a black man’s justice in America.
Reactions to the not guilty verdict seem to be largely drawn along racial lines with black people enraged that a predominately-white, all female jury found Zimmerman not guilty, and non-black people believing justice was served.
But, as We Are Not Trayvon Martin proves, for some social segments, reactions are more nuanced than that. It is enlightening to realize that there are non-black people who believe the verdict was unjust, and feel this deeply. That means there’s hope that we can all not only just get along; but also more importantly, that someday far, far off, we can all be treated equally.
Demetria L. Lucas is the author of “A Belle in Brooklyn: The Go-to Girl for Advice on Living Your Best Single Life” (Atria). Follow her on Twitter @abelleinbk.