[Editor’s Note: Graphic images at the end of this post, under the cut]
The Trayvon Martin syllabus: These reading and viewing assignments are designed to prompt politically vigilant conversations about historical and institutional constructs of black male criminality in the United States.
Specifically, they unpack Trayvon Martin’s gratuitous murder in February 2012 and the response his tragic death elicited from media and legal institutions–especially relevant in the wake of Michael Brown’s August 2014 lynching in Ferguson, Missouri. Written texts consist of insightful and timely essays published on blogs like Colorlines, The Feminist Wire and Black Girl Dangerous.
These essays teach tertiary students how to extrapolate anti-black racism from non-black experiences of ethnic difference without overwhelming them with jargon-heavy texts written for a well-versed academic audience. Read the Post Teaching Trayvon
Michael Dunn got away with murder.Oh, he’ll likely spend the rest of his life in prison on the three counts of attempted second-degree murder. Those are the charges of which a Jacksonville, Fla., jury took four days to find him guilty, for the 10 bullets he fired at 17-year-old Jordan Davis and his three friends that fateful November more than a year ago because they wouldn’t turn down the “thug music” that he despised.
Dunn’s conviction has given Jordan’s parents, Lucia McBath and Ron Davis, a bit of closure to know that their son’s killer won’t walk away free, that while he robbed Jordan of the chance to reach middle age, he also robbed himself of the chance to reach old age in a retirement village instead of a cell block.
But the jury couldn’t decide whether Dunn, 47, was justified in killing Jordan, who argued with him and cursed him when he asked them to turn down the music. Not only could they not decide whether Dunn’s slaying of the unarmed teenager amounted to first-degree murder, but they also couldn’t decide whether it amounted to second-degree murder or manslaughter.
Which leads me to ask: What if Jordan had been the only one in that Dodge Durango? — Tonyaa Weathersbee, The Root
I walk around in this young Black male body and I understand that it causes fear. It causes a reaction. It causes police to look at me more carefully. It could kill me. This is the burden that I bear just by being born Black and living in America is the fact that I have been born into a racist system, a racist society that has placed on my Black male body a set of ideas that invoke fear in people. That’s what Jordan Davis was dealing with. That’s what Trayvon Martin was dealing with, and it killed them.
I was warned before moving to Amsterdam that there’s a term Dutch people use for kids which translates to “monkey.” They use it with all kids and it’s supposed to be a term of endearment. They literally have no context for why you can’t call a Black kid that. The thing is my son is exceptionally cute (just sayin’) and people are constantly cooing at him, especially older people. Sure, they’re all smiles and sweet sounds but are they in fact calling my son a monkey?! And if they are, what do I do about it? Curse them out in English? Memorize Dutch insults to sling at all offending grandmothers?
We were also warned that we should make sure to be vocal about our two-year-old not being involved with any Zwarte Piet celebrations at his daycare. Most schools not only have kids coloring in pictures of him but they may even consider having Sekani dress up as a Piet! Excuse my Dutch but WHAT THE F*CK!?
The Dutch are so adamant about their love for Piet that the indoctrination begins as early as daycare. When parents have tried to have their kids abstain from the festivities at school, it seems unfathomable to teachers who do everything from guilt tripping the parents, “Why do you want your child to be left out?” to turning the kid against their parents, “your mommy doesn’t want you to have fun.” I heard from a friend that a Black mother she knew went to pick up her daughter from school one day only to find her face painted Black. This is all problematic for so many reasons.
Dwyer Murphy interviews Edwidge Danticat on her new work, being an immigrant writer, and categorization.
Guernica: Would these be very different stories if you didn’t translate? If you took them down in Creole?
Edwidge Danticat: Oh, definitely. I had that experience with Krik? Krak! I made some of the stories into radio plays in Creole and they become totally different. More alive in some way. More immediate. In the epigraph to Drown, Junot Diaz uses a quote from a Cuban poet, Gustavo Pérez Firmat—“The fact that I am writing to you in English already falsifies what I wanted to tell you.” This is the dilemma of the immigrant writer. If I’d lived in Haiti my whole life, I’d be writing these things in Creole. But these stories I am writing now are coming through me as a person who, though I travel to Haiti often, has lived in the U.S. for more than three decades now.
Often when you’re an immigrant writing in English, people think it’s primarily a commercial choice. But for many of us, it’s a choice that rises out of the circumstances of our lives. These are the tools I have at my disposal, based on my experiences. It’s a constant debate, not just in my community but in other communities as well. Where do you belong? You’re kind of one of us, but you now write in a different language. You’re told you don’t belong to American literature or you’re told you don’t belong to Haitian literature. Maybe there’s a place on the hyphen, as Julia Alvarez so brilliantly wrote in one of her essays. That middle generation, the people whose parents brought them to other countries as small children, or even people who were born to immigrant parents, maybe they can have their own literature too.
I.Y. Lee at the Asian American Writers’Workshop examines racial space and conversation for the Asian American commmunity in the wake of the Trayvon Martin shooting.
Some Asian Americans have been Trayvon Martin in the past: in 1975, when Peter Yew was brutally beaten by police and it took the largest rallies in New York Chinatown’s history (some 10-20,000) to secure promises of no further police harassment; in 1982, when Vincent Chin was beaten to death with a baseball bat because his killers, who never served jail time, confused him with the Japanese auto industry; in 2001, when Balbir Singh Sodhi, a Punjabi Sikh, was shot and killed by a man who mistook him for Muslim and conflated Islam with 9/11; in 2011, when Private Danny Chen was driven to suicide by the racial tormenting of his peers and superiors in the army.
But today, the much-publicized “model minority” myth will tell you about the ‘success’ and assimilation of Asian Americans—so much that elite colleges may be quietly capping the numbers of Asians they admit. This is not a compliment. Indeed, it divides Asians from other people of color, obscures the real needs of Asian communities—e.g., between 2007 and 2010, Asian Americans/Pacific Islanders had the highest long-term unemployment rate of any group—and marginalizes the experiences of working class Asian immigrants.
by Guest Contributor Hari Stephen Kumar, originally published at Kinetic Now
Shortly after George Zimmerman was acquitted, a friend said that “these are dark times in America.” To which I said, “No, these are white times in America, as always.”
In the month since the Zimmerman acquittal, the mainstream conversation about the case has morphed into a personal verdict on Trayvon’s behavior and a cultural indictment on black people more broadly. When even the President of the United States, a black man, begins his heartfelt statement on the issue by saying that he wants to address “the issue of the Trayvon Martin ruling,” you already know that in the public imagination the case of Florida v. Zimmerman has become instead a Trial of Trayvon.
And when the President ends his speech by asking the American people to ask ourselves, echoing Martin Luther King, Jr., “Am I judging people as much as I can, based on not the color of their skin, but the content of their character?” you cannot help but reflect on all the ways that it was indeed Trayvon’s character that was judged and assassinated in both the legal courtroom and in the court of public opinion.
For many, this is one of the strangest things about the case: why did the trial’s focus shift to Trayvon instead of Zimmerman? After the verdict, why has the so-called “national conversation on race” become so fixated on “problems” with “black culture”? Why did the acquittal give license to commentators from across the racial and political spectrum to speak so bluntly in blaming black people for Trayvon’s death? How do we make sense of the ugly racial rhetoric coming from white commentators like Fox News host Bill O’Reilly and NRA board member Ted Nugent who are so quick to condemn the character of “the black community”? Why do their talking points get repeated across online comments and in personal conversations?
And why do so many such conversations begin with “I’m not racist but …”?
I mean, there’s even a satirical app called iNotRacist which allows anxious white people to demonstrate their level of non-racism by surrounding themselves with tokens of minority cultures:
In all seriousness, though, how do people across the racial spectrum get to ask genuine questions about race with each other? What about people who recognize that there is indeed something deeply odd about race relations in America but are not sure how to begin asking about it without getting accused of being racists?
In summary, here are five keys that explain how mainstream conversations and perceptions about race in America contribute to a broader history of racial injustice:
Key #1: Practice racism without being racist American racism is more of a color-blind cultural racism than a personal racism. This kind of racism allows people to believe cultural stereotypes about minority communities in general, without feeling like they are being personally racist against minority individuals.
Key #2: Continue a long American tradition of condemning blackness (while confirming whiteness) American cultural stereotypes linking blackness to criminality go back a long ways, to discriminatory social policies and Jim Crow laws instituted after the Civil War that condemned black people as a group based on biased crime statistics. Meanwhile, similar patterns of crime by white immigrant groups were instead humanized and individualized.
Key #4: Rely on whiteness to deny ‘neighborliness’ to black/brown neighbors White privilege shapes the ways people interpret and suspect the actions of their non-white neighbors. This happens even if the person suspecting the neighbor is non-white, because whiteness is a system of beliefs that we are all immersed in, so you don’t have to be white in order to uphold the normalcy of whiteness.
Key #5: Stand your (white) ground by supporting gun laws based on white supremacist talking points Laws like Stand Your Ground (which, by the way, was absolutely part of the Zimmerman defense) reflect fears and paranoias that once were the domain of white supremacist groups but are now a part of mainstream NRA talking points that openly encourage violent white vigilantism as a “reasonable” response to suspicious behavior in “your” neighborhood.