I saw a meme on Facebook the other day that says, “I am not Trayvon Martin.” It was posted by a “middle-aged, middle class, overweight white guy” who did not personally identify with Trayvon but still understood why the verdict was wrong. It has since gone viral.
The message resonated with me because I am not Trayvon Martin. Although I have the typical phenotypes of a Southeast Asian woman, I grew up without experiencing any direct racism. In contrast, I often experience kindness from strangers. I would walk home late at night (sometimes in a black hoodie, with my hands in my pockets), and people would stop to ask me if I’m lost or in need of assistance.
Because at 5-foot-1 and 100 pounds, I look like a 12-year-old on most days. In other words, I look nonthreatening — a lost child that needs to be protected, not attacked.
But what about Trayvon Martin?
On February 26, 2012, Martin, a tall and lean 17-year-old, was walking back to his girlfriend’s house — located in a gated community of Sanford, Fla. — after a quick run to 7-Eleven for some Skittles and Arizona juice. He was 70 yards from her back porch when George Zimmerman, a self-appointed neighborhood watch, shot him in the chest. Some can say that Trayvon was simply in the wrong place at the wrong time. But I disagree. He was walking in a gated community at 7 p.m.! Which part of that sounds like the wrong place and time to you? Nothing, right? The situation would have been radically different if it weren’t for the color of his skin — a fact that did not escape Zimmerman.
Here’s my initial reaction: Why was Zimmerman even patrolling at 7 p.m.? The sun went down in Florida at 6:23 p.m. on that night. Obviously, Zimmerman either had too much free time on his hands — apparently his “goal” to become a judge doesn’t entail devoting any time to studying laws — or he was out targeting people who looked like Martin. The latter theory is backed by a racial slur that Zimmerman dropped during his 911 call to the police: “These assholes always get away.” Now, if that doesn’t imply intentional prejudice, then I don’t know what will. From what I see, Zimmerman went after a teenager with a bag of Skittles in his hands, because the notions of black males in hoodies and malicious thugs were interchangeable in his mind.
Unfortunately, the female jurors in Florida could not reach the same logical conclusion. They ruled that Zimmerman was not guilty because he acted in self-defense. Perhaps they were too busy scrutinizing what Martin was wearing that night (because a black hoodie automatically screams suspicious behavior) to notice Zimmerman’s criminal record, which includes charges for assaulting an officer and resisting arrest and a restraining order from his ex-fiancee alleging domestic violence. Clearly not the best person you’d want on your neighborhood watch team.
To those who support the verdict, here’s my two cents: At the end of the day, an unarmed minor was killed, and the killer got away scot-free.
And that is precisely why I, along with other dissenters of the verdict, can’t help but think that this tragedy was caused by the insidious seed of racism in our minds. What if Zimmerman had seen someone like me that night? I have no doubts he would’ve offered to drive me home, even though I’m three years older than Martin and can often be seen armed with pepper spray.
I am not Trayvon Martin. But I don’t have to be Trayvon Martin to understand that racial profiling was a major factor in Zimmerman’s actions, that racism perpetuates and divides our country, that judging people by their skin pigmentation is inexcusably and intolerably wrong. And until enough people who are not Trayvon Martin realize these fundamentals, nothing will change.
Anh Thai ponders about insidious world problems in her Tuesday blog. Contact Anh Thai at [email protected]