As I read about the Trayvon Martin murder and subsequent trial, I can’t stop thinking about the obvious: the invisibility of privilege, and what it means right now. Yes, I realize that the Florida laws regarding stand your ground are so flawed that some could say the jury had reason to acquit Zimmerman. As Charles M. Blow writes in his excellent column, “The Whole System Failed Trayvon Martin” these laws allow “…an aggressor to claim self-defense in the middle of an altercation — and to use deadly force in that defense — with no culpability for his role in the events that led to that point.”
I also realize that this case itself raises complex questions about the local police department, use of deadly force, ample availability of guns, growing up Black and especially Black and male in America, the legal system, fear of the other, and the real or perceived dangers that fuel overzealous self-protection, and where America truly is and isn’t regarding freedom to all. Yet I also realize that as a white woman with white sons, beyond my empathy, I don’t have to live with the workaday reality is of living at risk because of racism.
What is it to be seen as a threat when you go out to get some candy and soda? What is it to be the mother or father of someone who faces such a threat? What does this moment in history call on us to do, especially those like me who have it relatively easy because of the color of our skin, when it comes to truly seeing what’s happening and acting for justice? The writing that catches my heart the most lately speaks directly to these questions: a moving post by a young black man, Wesley Hall, about how he used to think his parents overestimated the dangers he faced as a young black man but now appreciates what his parents conveyed to him, and how “….they managed to teach us not to allow this country to fill us with fear, while simultaneously not allowing it to rob us of our vigilance.” Or my colleague Sarah Bobrow-Williams, who, as the white mother of mixed-race children, writes:
I understand that perhaps the most helpful thing I can do for the family of Trayvon Martin and for my country is to be willing to stand up and to say that this white American citizen is not blinded by her privilege, that I understand that in acquitting George Zimmerman we have further restricted the freedom and assaulted the dignity of every African American and US citizen of color; that I understand that this country will never live up to its promise of democracy until all of us are free.
Greg Greenway, one of my favorite singer-songwriters, wrote in his song “A Road Worth Walking Down,” the lines, “I wonder, my heart is so blinded/ I won’t know it when I’ve found/ a road worth walking down.” He once told me that when he wrote these lines, called by realizing the part his white privilege plays in racism, he realized that once you see one thing you’re blind to, you can ask yourself what else you’re blind to in this world. So that’s what I’m doing lately, hoping that many of us doing the same can make the difference so desperately needed in this country.