SASHA DEBEVEC-McKENNEY, Opinions Editor
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.