Cultural Critique / Pop Culture / The Color Line

Make Your Revolution Relevant: Why I’ve Been Silent About Trayvon Martin

I had to be honest with myself over the last few days about why I have been silent about what I consider to be the epitome of one of the greatest travesties of justice that I have seen in the recent years.

I heard about Trayvon Martin’s death about a week after it happened and I saw a few people tweet about it.  I read the circumstances and shook my head and refused to read more about it.  It hit home for me.  It hit too close to home to be quite honest.  The next couple of days I did my tweets to Rev. Al Sharpton in hopes that the story would gain national attention, and thankfully, I wasn’t the only one that felt the same way.  About two weeks after his death, the name Trayvon Martin was seen all over Twitter and various bloggers, essayists and journalists had weighed in on the topic.

Yet, I stayed silent.

I wrote a small piece over at FWDNation but I generally spoke about the pornography of violence in our culture and the “violent normalcy of civilization” in a broad topic and used Trayvon Martin as a lens to discuss it.  However, I never really fully engaged the issue, I remained silent on the blogging subject.  Then one morning as I was getting ready for work the Today Show on NBC covered the story in it’s lead half-hour and that’s when I heard the 911 tapes.  The rapport of the gunshot coming through the caller’s phone shook me to my core.

Still, I stayed silent.

I went on for a few days and I read articles concerning black male image in this country and the issue about how black men look and are perceived; from wearing hoodies to wearing business suits and what message are we sending and what message is being received in this country solely based on how we are dressed.

Then suddenly I was jerked to being 12 years old myself.

I remember my mother telling me the first time I rode the bus solo from a class I was taking downtown and back to school midday about how I appeared to everyone.  She always told me that I looked older than what I was and that people were going to see me as being older.  That was her way of trying to tell me that most everyone is going to see a young black male and a possible threat to their lives; that people were going to readily see me as a potential hoodlum ready to rob them or terrorize them.  That was her way of saying that people paint young black males with a wide brush and that I need to be prepared for it.

I remember the first time I consciously remember a white woman walking on a downtown street move her purse to the other side of her body because she was approaching me and move it back as soon as she had passed.  I remember the first time entering an elevator and seeing a white woman clutch her purse tighter as I entered.  I remember walking home from school when it was dark and seeing another neighborhood white girl see me coming and begin to run full tilt until she reached the house on the same block which I lived.  These are all small memories, the ones in which we don’t talk about.

And yet I stayed silent about Trayvon.

The great equalizer surrounding Trayvon’s death that hit home for me was that essentially there wasn’t much preventing anyone from having had stopped me on the street and question my whereabouts when I was 16 or 17 walking home in the dark from school.  There’s nothing preventing the police from rolling on me just because I’m walking home in my own neighborhood from when I was 17 or to even my age right now.  Growing up in the 90′s and and the very early 2000′s the black male image was acutely determined by how much of a “hyper-masculine thug” you looked like.  This meant wearing oversized jeans, oversized shirts–and yes hoodies.

Even still, I remained silent concerning Trayvon.

Commentators from Rev. Al Sharpton to Melissa Harris-Perry began discussing the disparities of this “stand your ground” law which has allowed Trayvon’s killer George Zimmerman to maintain a self-defense argument.  The commentary discussing why the use of “deadly force” as justifiable in self-defense almost defeats the point of the law in the first place.  The questions finally gor raised about black male imagery in a public atmosphere.  Does wearing a hoodie, carrying sweet tea and a bag of Skittles equate to suspicious behavior?  Does it warrant a self-appointed neighborhood watchman to pursue a 17 year old while carrying a loaded gun?

The answer is of course no, but still I couldn’t bring myself to write about Trayvon.

Last Friday, a reporter asked Obama specifically about Trayvon Martin and more questions ensued and Obama, now famously, said “If I had a son, he’d look like Trayvon.”  He went on to say “I think all of us have to do some soul-searching to figure out how does something like this happen,” and encouraged a full investigation on behalf of the U.S. Department of Justice, headed by fellow black man, Eric Holder.  Certainly, Obama invoked the specter of race in his comments nearly four years to the date when he gave his famous speech on race in Philadelphia prompted by his affiliation with Jeremiah Wright.

Again, I remained silent.

However, over the weekend as “hoodie Sunday” ensued in churches across this country with clergy proudly wearing hooded sweatshirts and black male ministers armed with Skittles and Arizona brand sweet tea proclaimed from the pulpits “Do I look suspicious?”; and Newt Gingrich, in the death throes of his campaign assailed Obama for playing the race card; as sentiments concerning the countless deaths of young black men at the hands of other young black men who remain nameless in the face of the now household name of Trayvon Martin…

….I decided to say something.

There is a parable in the Markan account of the Jesus narrative in the canonized New Testament that speaks about tenant farmers who rebel against the landowner by killing his son in revenge.  Essentially, these are sharecroppers who band together and stage a revolt against the landowners, probably mad about their economic plight, unhappy about their living conditions and are well aware that there is absolutely nothing they can do to be upwardly mobile.  The only thing they did to be in that situation is to have been born in that caste.  Moreover, some were probably aware that the landowners were in the back pocket of the Roman officials that had occupied the Roman controlled territory.  That is to suggest, that their immediate enemy, the landowner, looked like them, but the reigning control had a different skin color and was of a different nationality.

When I had to preach this text, I realized that the tenants, the sharecroppers were protesting the economic injustices of the era.  Protesting so much that they staged a revolt.  But, I’m sure, like Nat Turner, they met their fate in rather unpleasant terms as the text implies.  To that end, what happens?  Nat Turner’s rebellion, or revolt, did nothing to end slavery.  If nothing else, some say it lead to harsher treatment of slaves in that region, and things got worse before they got better.  Turner is no more than a footnote in some history books and his full story is only known in very particular circles, namely within the black community.

So what about these tenants, these sharecroppers?  My message to those tenants, and my message to those donning hoodies and armed with Skittles and cans of iced tea, is to make your revolution relevant.

There’s a decided difference between a revolt and a revolution.  A revolt is marked by a direct response to a direct issue.  Revolts can be when when union workers stage a work stoppage for better pay or better work conditions.  Or the violent revolts that happen when military coups overthrow dictatorships or the like.  A revolution, on the other hand, is usually the elongated fights and protests that happen in many different areas over the course of a time span that result in a change in the meta-narrative.  Revolutions are characterised by a movement.  The French Revolution, as we know it, was the result of the forward progress over years.  The modern Civil Rights movement, as we know it, was the result of calculated events that took place ever since enslaved Africans landed on the shores of North America and realized their status as humans had been revoked by the ruling class.

Those who revolt in the name of a direct issue and fail to focus on the larger issues at play, sadly are not making the revolution relevant.  What my fellow white conservative brothers and sisters are failing to do is to realize the racial implications of all of this.  Freelance journalist Reniqua Allen put it this way in a Washington Post article:

Obama’s measured words on [last] Friday only highlighted  how removed the president seems from the candidate who gave that stirring speech on race four years ago. Obama was asked directly about “allegations of lingering racism in our society,” but he shied away. He rightly used caution in talking about a case that the Justice Department is investigating, and he offered a moving sentiment for Martin’s parents, saying, “If I had a son, he would look like Trayvon.” But he hasn’t grappled with this tragedy, or with racial disparities and divisions, along with us, guiding us in a way that only he can — as the commander-in-chief, as a lawyer, as a community leader and as a black man.

The Obama presidency is “post-racial” only in the sense that it gives us an excuse not to grapple with race anymore.

While our conservative cohorts are quick to claim a post-racial America, fact of the matter is that if Barack and Michelle had a son and he was still just Senator Obama who lived in the neighborhood where I grew up and walked the same streets where I grew up, he very well could be stopped and harassed by police.  Or other random white citizens.  Lest Chicago Southsiders forget the story of Lenard Clark who suffered irreparable brain damage after white citizens decided he didn’t belong in their neighborhood.  Sound familiar?  And no, this didn’t happen in the 1960s, this was in 1997.

What is problematic for me is that we live in a country where we operate from sound bytes and we fail to ever have the conversation about the nuances of the major issues that affect our everyday lives.  Trayvon Martin’s death is a clear enough cut case that can be summed up in three sentences–a soundbite.  Whereas the issue of black on black crimes in the inner cities of our country cannot and shouldnot be summed up so concisely.  Therefore, to protest or to march on those issues isn’t quite as easy.  While some might argue if we got as angry over Trayvon’s death as we do over our sons and daughters shot intentionally and randomly then it we wouldn’t be burying them senselessly every week.

Maybe.

The frequency of black on black murder makes us inured to it’s occurences.  Especially when so many of us who have the means of which to blog, to comment, to be journalists and to have this conversation live well outside of the neighborhoods where violence is so commonplace, we comment from our ivory towers and our obvious place of privilege.  We sit and try and make sense of deadly occurrences when we see black and brown faces as both perpetrator and victim.  We try and figure out what it is we are supposed to do; what are we supposed to be angry about and what can be done about this!

That is to suggest, that when we decided to protest, we have to be clear about what it is we are protesting against.  Newt Gingrich calling the president’s comments “disgraceful” about Trayvon Martin and trying to steer the conversation toward why isn’t he concerned about the deaths of black males in the District are nothing more than mere distractions to the current issue at hand.  The hoodies in Twitter avis and Facebook profile pictures represent the hundreds of “Trayvons” that have died senselessly at the hands of police and of other persons because they “looked suspicious.”  The protest is to get the “stand your ground/make my day” law changed from allowing justifiable deadly force.  The protest is directly so that if there is factual evidence to give George Zimmerman a day in court, that it will indeed happen.

These protests, this revolt, if you will, exists so that when the revolution happens, we will be able to say that it has relevancy in our lives.  We must refrain from always focusing on staging one revolt to the next revolt; one protest to the next protest.  We are required to frame these exercises of our freedoms and these fights for liberation in the context of a revolution.  I couldn’t bring myself to write about Trayvon Martin until now, hence my silence, until I was clear what the fight was about.  God forbid I jump on the bandwagon for a cause I know nothing about.  Until now, my focus wasn’t clear, but now it it.  Let us not be focused on the revolt, but let us focus on the revolution; and I dare say, make it relevant.

Keep it uppity and keep it truthfully radical, JLL

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18 thoughts on “Make Your Revolution Relevant: Why I’ve Been Silent About Trayvon Martin

  1. So well stated. Thank you for eloquently and thoughtfully expressing what so many feel but don’t know how to articulate. I haven’t been completely silent but I sat back until I felt forced to say something about the passionate rhetoric that was devoid of meaningful action and also by what I saw as a push back from those who are tired of “everything being about race” but have no idea what it is to actually live a life where that is indeed a reality.

  2. Hi! Excellent thoughts. There are a few spelling edits you should double check (travesty’s, it’s / its, gor / got, etc…) Thanks.

  3. “Let us not be focused on the revolt, but let us focus on the revolution; and I dare say, make it relevant.”

    Yep.

  4. Excellent commentary! I think a tragic consequence of jumping onto the bandwagon headed for the revolt is that once we realize that the revolution requires a different sort of commitment, we have to either jump off the speeding bandwagon or find a way to change its trajectory, and neither option is attractive or easy. At least, this is how I try to reconcile myself with those who miss the larger picture. You’ve done a great job of framing and I hope you’ve helped others to see clearly how to make their part in the revolution relevant.

  5. The revolution begins inside of each of the conscious; it spreads outward. We do diligently with the tools of our own individual and collective gifts toward peaceful coexistence.

    Revolution, IMO, begins with love and patience with those who revolt without wisdom and repeatedly against themselves.

    Uppity always. Write on.

  6. For a while I was wondering if i was one of the only individuals who had kept their mouths shut on this issue for a while. I need to know why we are marching and organizing and what we were standing on. Your article reinforces the fact that there is a long term plan in place that will be in motion after the hoodies go in the closet… I love how you explained the difference between revolt and revolution!

  7. Interesting how you conveniently left out the thousands of whites who suffer at the hands of black men, more so than the other way around. The statistics speak for themselves that white on black crime is small (not that it justifies anything) compared to black on white crime. Look the FBI statistics; it is startling. I am bringing this up because I am sick, as a black uppity, successful man, of race baiters like Sharpton stirring up white/black anxiety and hate. I have enough white friends who are already tired of the hate crime double standards, where it seems now more whites get convicted of them, versus blacks. So when I am sitting on the NYC subway on my way home, because I am dressed to the nines, on my way to the Bronx and because I busted my ass to be successful, I am considered by most black youth as a “sell out” and in need of a beating. The whites on the D train suffer the same sh*t everyday and I witness it all the time; harrassment by black and b/latino males only because we look good and speak “white”. If we are to lessen the resentment by whites towards blacks, we need to stop with the double standards in the media and elsewhere, and admit to our failures in the black community. Every black person I know seems to hate Bill Cosby for speaking the truth a few years ago when he mentioned the problems we have in our inner cities; one of anti-intellectualism and from my own experience, anti-white racism too.

    It’s very sad. No whites marched for the white Knoxville couple who were beaten, raped and dismembered by black males. And if they did, they’d be called “white supremacists” but when we mobilize and march when it’s done to us by whites, it’s called “justice”. Go figure. And, in case you are curious; yes, I am black (actually blatino) and am just tired of the victimist strain within our community which blames every ill on white folks; as if there aren’t poor whites in the US. Try living in rural Wisconsin some time (as I did for my masters at the UofW) and see the white poor, all of whom embraced me as a resident and there was zero violent crime. So poverty does NOT always breed crime. Enough excuses, black folks. Let’s get our shit together. Slavery ended over 150 years ago and we are still bitchin’ about “da man”. Here’s one tip: Black women, pick your men better, keep your legs closed, stay in school, strive for a better life and stay away from the losers in the neighborhood who are going no where. And if you don’t then it’s not the white man’s fault or the gob’ment’s fault. It’s YOUR fault. My tax dollars shouldn’t go to support lazy, confrontational, entitled whiny ho’s who can’t seem to keep their legs closed and lazy men who impregnate our women, get a slap in the wrist and expect the government to support those kids; who end up becoming the evil spawns harassing us on the subways. I worked hard, didn’t father dozens of unwanted children and stayed on the right track. Is that too much to ask of those of us who grow up in the inner city? There IS a way out. You just have to want it.

    • “No whites marched for the white Knoxville couple who were beaten, raped and dismembered by black males.”

      During the civil rights movement, the laws were set up against blacks. The only power we had was to march. In this case, the laws were set up against Trayvon. There is a law that says somebody can kill you if they feel threatened…so again…the only power we have is to march. What would a group of people who are the majority and essientially hold the power in this country use marching for? So would you rather we have allowed Zimmerman to kill Trayvon and nothing have been said because that would be us playing the “victims”? They teach history in schools for a reason. You need to do more research on black history. Actually, we all do. No, I’m not pleased with the state of our black communities, and I don’t know what the solution is to fix it, but I don’t make ignorant statements generalizing an entire race of people (ignorant because you have shown little knowledge about how our people have gained the rights that you and I enjoy today). And just so you know, more white people are getting benefits from the governments than blacks…but you chose to act as if blacks are the only ones benefiting from the entitlement programs…again…a little research goes a long way.

    • @Marcus

      Interesting how you failed to actually quote the statistics that you say exist for black on white crimes.

      I fail to see the overarching point to your comment however. While I see the argument you’re trying to make, what you have to say isn’t necessarily germane to the circumstances surrounding the Trayvon Martin case. While I’m happy that you have found yourself to operate in a microcosm where you aren’t necessarily reminded of your skin color on a consistent basis beyond the fact that you are one who has “busted [your] ass to be successful” and happens to be black. That’s fine, no one is mad at your for your perceived success, I’m certainly not. But to ignore the fact that much of how people act and react is rooted in historical instances is troublesome to me.

      Hearing someone say “slavery ended over 150 years ago” is to speak in a complete historical vacuum. It’s to deny the deliberate steps of civil rights and equal rights in this country. Full rights under the law weren’t fully realized until the mid 1960s brother, and that was only 50 years ago. In a society where people are marginalized because of their race, their gender and their sexuality, you seem to be taking the stance that those identifications don’t matter to a white heternomative and male run society. If we need to get passed this as you say, then tell me why isn’t the racial and gender make-up of Congress more evenly proportioned; there are no black people represented in the U.S. Senate.

      No one’s trying to tell people to shirk their own personal agency, at least I’m certainly not, but both need to happen. There are fundemental institutional issues that need to be addressed in this country, taking a post racial talking point that’s only worth of Fox News does not and will not serve the greater good. Telling black folk to get over slavery is like telling Palestinians to get over the fact that people not from their land decided to make Israel a state in what was already occupied territory; telling black folk to get over slavery is like telling the Sioux, the Navajo and Lakota people to get over Europeans just taking over their land because God told them it was okay to do so. The result of these historical occurences go on longer than the actual event themselves.

      I mean, 9/11 was ten years ago, we might as well get over it.

      The largest flaw that I see in your argument, even though it has nothing to do with Trayvon Martin, is the idea that you seem to have believe in the lie that the majority of your tax dollars go to “support lazy, confrontational, entitled whiny ho’s who can’t seem to keep their legs closed and lazy men who impregnate our women, get a slap in the wrist and expect the government to support those kids; who end up becoming the evil spawns harassing us on the subways” are black people. It’s just a matter of basic arithmatic brother: blacks are 12% of the population, there’s no way that those who receive public assistance are mostly black. I’m pretty sure the poor white people you seem so fond of in Wisconsin were receivers of public assistance. And if you have a problem with social programs, take it up with Franklin Roosevelt and the 73rd and 74th Congress.

    • Marcus, please get over yourself.

      Two, when I was 14, 15 or 16, I used to think the exact same thing. “Women should keep their legs closed” so they can make it and avoid the pitfalls and problems many women face as young single mothers. Fortunately I grew up and learned that solution was nothing but adolescent sexist crap.

    • BRAVO !! This advice should be sent to Every female and male of any Race. I do happen to be white. The percentage of ALL children being born without a married parent is APPAULING! This is not confined to any race alone.
      What was ONCE looked upon as “Shame” in this country now seems to be embraced! The Jersey shores, babies mama’s,Jerry Springers guest, are being PAID to make this life style appealing. Bravo I say again to you!

      • Marcus, my comments were directed at you. I don’t have all the answers to our differences. I do NOT agree with ANY racial injustice or hate crimes. But as you said, where was the circling media when Channon Christian and Christopher Newsome were murdered in such a brutal senseless way? And yes, if they had marched it would have been Called KKK! And I do Not agree with white supremacy either. I DO think “Trial By Media” should CEASE! Let it go to court! By the time the BIG cases go to trial, most of them have already been decided! How could Jurors NOT form an opinion with all the evidence being laid out on the Nightly News OVER and Over ?
        No there should not be a ban on NEWS ,But they ALL…… NBC,ABC,CBS,CNN,FOX,MSNBC, EVEN LOCAL small town TV News can’t Wait to cover and cover and cover every piece of evidence before the crime scene tape is down. UNTIL the next Big Thing comes along and they move on like Vultures leaving their Roadkill.

  8. Great post. Personally I thought the whole wear your hoodie phenomenon was silly but I’ll be nice and say it was just pure reactionary.
    Just like Marcus, I live in the Bronx, New York. I’m gainfully employed and obviously I’m successful because I really wanted to be successful. I really wanted it. OK, corny joke, corny stab at Marcus. Honestly I don’t really have enough emotional strength left to be outraged about young Travyon. Every once in a while I wonder and pray for Chicago high school students. Why do I care about Chicago high school students? I don’t know but too many of them are being killed. Where’s the outrage? Honor student, Derrion Albert, was one of many kids being killed. The death toll in 2009 passed 25 students. The 2010 school began with 2 students being killed. Sound bite to sound byte. Yes.
    After a while the stories get ridiculous. 61-year old, former cop Howard Martin, was shot 28 times by Chicago police officers. He was just sentenced to 40 years in jail. No national coverage, no national outrage. I wonder if Michel Malkin blogged about it. I wonder if he really wanted to be successful. I wonder if he regularly wore suits or hoodies. Was he articulate? Does he have a master’s degree or doctorate degree? I don’t know.
    I don’t know. We really need to make a relevant change. Sound bite to sound byte. Your comment about sound bites is very important.

    • @VEe

      I did some digging a coupla years back and I discovered that back in the early 90s, the number of Chicago Public School students was double what it was; the number of people killed in Chicago in the early 90s had numbered a staggering 900-something. That is to say, there’s been a problem for a while–just that it’s become “sexy” in a 24/7 news cycle that casts journalistic integrity aside with each moment.

  9. Most conservatives like Mitt Romney, Newt Gingrich, Rick Santorum, and yes even Ron Paul play to thr nature of thr lower and nasty part of the small percentage of the people of this country. They appeal to the venomous spewing hatred-part of people who hate others not of their kind. But those that revolt against the nature of those people are to continue until the revolution is won. How will it be won? It will be won when God takes His people back to the Promised Land. When the ruling class in America will rule only over their own kind. In their own minds they would take their country back, and God’s people will be back in the Promised Land.

    (Isaiah 2:2-4) And it shall come to pass in the last days, that the mountain of the LORD’s house shall be established in the top of the mountains, and shall be exalted above the hills; and all nations shall flow unto it. And many people shall go and say, Come ye, and let us go up to the mountain of the LORD, to the house of the God of Jacob; and he will teach us of his ways, and we will walk in his paths: for out of Zion shall go forth the law, and the word of the LORD from Jerusalem. And he shall judge among the nations, and he shall rebuke many people: and they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into prunninghooks: nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more.

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