After 17-year-old Trayvon Martin was killed in February, the online response to his death grew to critical mass. Millions of people signed a petition, thousands showed up at marches across the country, and many declared, “I am Trayvon Martin.”

While supporters of Tayvon’s story crossed race, ethnic, and class divides, one woman thinks white folks who say they they are Trayvon are misguided. Although their support for his cause, as well as their willingness to fight injustice, may be genuines–they are not and will never be Trayvon Martin.

She explains:

I know you wear that shirt to stand in solidarity with Trayvon, Troy, and other victims of injustice. The purpose of those shirts is to humanize these victims of our society, by likening them to the middle class white activist wearing it. And once we’ve humanized the victims, this proves to us the arbitrariness of their deaths and thereby the injustice at play.

But the fact of the matter is that these men’s deaths are anything but arbitrary. The fact that the real Troy Davis and Trayvon Martin and countless other victims of oppression are buried under 6 feet of cold dirt while we middle class white activists are alive, marching, and wearing their names is an indication that our societal system is working exactly as it’s intended.

A more accurate t-shirt to display on my white body would be “I AM GEORGE ZIMMERMAN.” Zimmerman and I were indoctrinated in the same American discourse where we learned that the “other,” particularly black men like Trayvon and Troy, were less human and were to be feared. Society taught me that as a little white girl, I must preserve my purity and goodness, and that the presence of young single males threatened it. Society taught me that being in the presence of a BLACK man compounds that threat exponentially. I have been taught that male, black, bodies are an immediate threat to my safety and the well being of society as a whole, and Zimmerman was taught the same damn thing. We’re all taught it.

This video reminds me of Michael Skolnik’s piece, “White People You Will Never Look Suspicious Like Trayvon Martin,” in which he tackles issues white privilege and the downside of racism and stereotypes.

Although the specifics of the Trayvon Martin case are beginning to divide people along racial and political lines,  if we’re able to move past these divisions, this incident has the potential to open up real dialogue about how we talk about race and racism in our country.

What do you think about the video? 

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  • Gordon

    As a poor white kid from a broken home who grew up in a tough, predominantly black inner-city neighbourhood. Where am I allowed to stand on this issue?

    Very weary of the assumption that every white youth is the product of suburban privilege.

    • Miss Higgi

      Point well taken. We are a complex people with so many experiences. While I hear your concern, bottom line is that in this society, realized or not, you are benefited by skin color alone. But clearly after race, poverty is the next wrung on which prejudice is based… You seem socially conscious however. Stay that way. Read Tim Wise. I am not sure if he discusses white privilege in terms of white poverty, but he definitely addresses it in terms of skin color…

  • Stand4truth

    I can understand Gordon’s perspective. Not every White person comes from a privileged background, just like not every Black person was raised in the ‘hood. And Tim Wise is an excellent example of how White people can have a more eclectic perspective on racial issues. Some accuse Wise of being a White apologist and way too liberal, but I don’t see it that way.

  • Dionne Roberts-Emegha

    Very thought provoking and eloquently put. Truth is, however, many middle class blacks are also indoctrinated the same way. As a black woman, I teach my child every day that I won’t approve of her hanging out with certain types of boys. When I see boys on the Disney channel like Rashon Fegan, I say “now that’s the kind of nice boy you should marry one day,” or that’s the type of girl mommy expects you to have as a friend. When I see girls dressed distastefully or boys wearing their pants to their knees, I say “their parents should be ashamed for allowing them to dress that way,” or “I better never see you looking like that or hanging out with people who do.” So, while she certainly has a point about our fears of a certain type of man walking down the street, specifically as it relates to black men, most people (meaning white people) are not George Zimmerman as she concludes, because while they may have feared a a Trayvon with a hoodie, most would never have hunted him down as if it were their God given right. In the end, despite our fears of certain types of people, 90% of us understand that anyone could fear our children on any given day and we would not want that to happen to our child. Every white person I know shares that sentiment. They would not want someone to shoot their child who dresses weird or scary under the auspices of Stand Your Own Ground. So that is why they identify with Tryavon Martin and not George Zimmerman. That is why they march.

    • Mrs emegha. That was my sentiment entirely. Some approval seeking and even politician like pandering also. Not Trayvon,, well no one was. Her parents now have to worry about all the young black males who just find her sexy. Sad.

    • John Ackerby

      My problem with what the young unknowing 17 year old in the video is saying is that she never once deals with the fact that Trayvon Martin banged another man’s head into concrete just because the guy was watching Martin. Her statements are ignorant and misguided at best but harmful at worse because she gives black people support in their wrongheaded and morally inappropriate conclusion that Zimmerman did something wrong. Zimmerman did nothing wrong. Martin caused the problem by attacking Zimmerman and banging Zimmerman’s head into concrete.