Trayvon Martin: walking while black, and why it should matter to you


In late February, Trayvon Martin, a 17-year-old black male, was walking home from a 7-Eleven holding an iced tea and a bag of Skittles. George Zimmerman, 28, thought Trayvon looked suspicious, and so he followed him, wrestled him to the ground, and shot him through the chest.
Suspicious, as used in the previous sentence, is another word for “African American.” Iced tea and skittles, as used above, could mean “gun.” Or, perhaps, “knife.”
It hurts to say and it hurts to hear, but white people in this country are still afraid of black people. I cringe when I hear the word “townie,” because it is dangerously close to meaning something other than a person from Beloit. Fear becomes hatred and hatred becomes Trayvon Martin’s death. Hatred becomes the death of any young, black male. For instance: my little brother, Evan, a 17-year-old black male.
As I’ve learned more and more about Trayvon Martin’s death, I’ve started to worry more and more about my brother. For his 17th birthday, I got him a Beloit hoodie. He wears that hoodie constantly, which I considered his 17-year-old way of showing his affection for me. Now, I’m regretting ever buying it for him. I know that might seem like an absurdly emotional reaction, but if wearing a hoodie and looking “suspicious” can get Trayvon Martin killed, then any 17-year old black male could be next.
Do I need to be worried when my brother bikes down to CVS for snacks? Probably not. But did Trayvon’s father worry when he went to the local 7-Eleven? Probably not.
What frustrates me is that I don’t know what to do to change things. I’ve never been much of an activist, but if I’ve learned one thing in the fantastic African American history class I’m in this semester it’s that nonviolent activism is effective. You can’t be accusatory, you can’t fight back, and you can’t be angry at the oppressor.
Even so, I find myself wanting George Zimmerman to go to jail, to be socially shamed. I find myself being mad at Beloit College for its intense focus on international study and its lack of classes on ethnicity. I’m mad that not everybody on this campus knows that Jim Zwerg’62, Beloit alumus, was nearly beaten to death while participating in the Freedom Rides.
It’s okay that a lot of people on this campus might not care about Jim Zwerg or even Trayvon Martin. I understand. Zwerg spent time as an exchange student at Fisk University, a historically black college—that’s one of the major factors that motivated him to dedicate himself to civil rights. At Beloit, we barely learn about African American history and culture. That, coupled with the fact that much of the student body is from mostly-white, upper-middle class neighborhoods, means many of us here think we have no reason to care. We do. As long as you are afraid of townies, or hold your backpack closer when you’re in Chicago and see a black man, you need to care about Trayvon Martin. Just like any young black male could by Trayvon Martin, any scared non-minority could become George Zimmerman. Fear does that to people.
The chances of another Jim Zwerg coming from Beloit College are slim to none until we start educating ourselves about the factors that lead to Trayvon Martin’s death.  I don’t mean reading Salon articles or liking a friend’s Facebook status; I mean taking Beatrice McKenzie’s Citizenship class or Catherine Orr’s Whiteness class. Watch a documentary about the Civil Rights movement and think about what kind of person you would have been in 1961, what you would have been willing to sacrifice, and what it says about you if you weren’t willing.
Beloit students do amazing work all over the world. It’s just that sometimes, I look around at all the study abroad posters plastered everywhere and wonder why we send our students away from the domestic issues that have haunted this country for centuries.



6 thoughts on “Trayvon Martin: walking while black, and why it should matter to you

  1. Can I just say that Zimmerman is an minority; he’s not white. Learn the facts.

    Posted by Just sayin..... | March 27, 2012, 2:44 am
  2. I find it absolutely hilarious how you people get on your high horses and call someone “racist” and think you are soooo much better than them – like you have just pulled the wools from everyone else’s eyes and exposed this person for being a raaacccciiiiissstt.

    Most of us are not racist. We are more… “culturalist”.

    We don’t like thugs who wear pants down to their ankles revealing their underwear for everyone to see, speak in gibberish, attempt to legitimize a corruption of a language, replace their teeth with tinfoil/diamonds/gold, have huge obnoxious tires and blast loud vulgar music for all to hear. Those who have 6 kids by 6 different daddy’s. Those who don’t know who the father of their children are. We don’t like the culture of walking around harassing people because someone looked at them funny. We don’t like the culture of highly disproportionate crime rates, violence, rape, and drug use. We don’t like the general disrespect and selfishness the culture has. We don’t like the lack of self-improvement or the attitude of entitlement. The culture of victimization and persecution from white people. We don’t like the culture of placing blame on the white man. We don’t like the culture of staying on welfare while you go out and make tons of money selling drugs.

    This culture exists. PC has allowed for a large group of people to adopt the above culture and be protected behind a curtain of politically correct sheep who defend any criticism or discrimination of the above by labeling it “racist” by inherently assuming that the above culture is the culture of the inner city black person.

    Posted by racism. | March 27, 2012, 10:43 am
    • I am a white Irish Catholic woman in my late 40s. My son is biracial, society sees him as black. He is a high honors student, Varsity athlete all through high school and now in college, and one of the most thoughtful, caring people on this earth. He is highly ambitious and does what he can to realize his dreams – and I am delighted to help him along the way.

      The stereotypes you list, “Racism”, are not my son. Yet you and many, many people automatically assume that of any young black male when you see them. It breaks my heart that when I am with him anywhere, we are treated well, but when he is by himself going through airport security or playing in a basketball game or walking in some stores, people are automatically suspicious of him because he a ‘fro and is black. THIS IS WRONG!!!!! Being black is NOT a crime. Following someone in your neighborhood for the sole reason that they are black IS a crime.

      We need to be careful not to assume that everyone who has a certain color skin fits the stereotypes you list. Yes, many do – as do many white people and people from other ethnic backgrounds. But we need to take people individually and not ASSUME that because someone is black they are a criminal. My son is about the best person I know. Yet so many people automatically assume he is a thug because he has a ‘fro. Once they get to know him, they love him. RACISM IS UGLY, DESTRUCTIVE, IGNORANT – and it hurts our country.

      I urge the people that do fit the stereotype you describe to CHANGE THEIR WAYS too – this is definitely part of the problem. People who act as you describe are a disgrace to their race and are a part of the problem too. I feel rage at them because their ignorant, ugly, destructive actions put my son and others like him in danger. Our society needs to come at this issue from both angles.

      Posted by MKK | March 28, 2012, 12:25 pm
      • Well put, MKK. And a moving, meaningful article by Sasha. The ignorance of RACISM’s comments above should astound me, but sadly, it does not.

        Posted by Sara | April 1, 2012, 12:38 pm
  3. I’m sorry that I implied Zimmerman was a non-minority. It’s been reported he’s at least half from an Hispanic background. Fair point. But I do still mean that any non-minority could become a George Zimmerman, because of their fear of minorities.

    Posted by Sasha | March 27, 2012, 9:32 pm
  4. Interesting and informative article.

    You or your readers might be interested in my post “Why Geraldo and the 1% don’t need hoodies…”

    It’s at onthewilderside.com


    Posted by kwilder | March 29, 2012, 1:54 pm

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