I was a senior in high school in 2012. This was also the year every senior in high school watched Trayvon Martin’s murderer walk innocently out of a courtroom. We all watched the trial diligently. My friends and I just knew that he would be guilty and he would go to jail. Eight years later, I am still shocked by the verdict but somehow Black bodies are still being publicly executed. Black bodies are still being disregarded because they are Black.
At that time, I was 17 and the not guilty verdict turned my entire world upside down and inside out. I knew racism existed but I didn’t know just how deeply it was engrained into American culture. AntiBlackness is not a new phenomenon that suddenly swept the nation. It happens on a grand scale and especially in small circumstances. Looking back on my high school experience, there were several examples of antiBlackness and racism from classmates and teachers. I had a government teacher tell me to think of slavery as a “business venture.” A middle aged, balding white man who strongly resembled Lord Voldemort told a room full of Black students to not condemn slavery but consider it from a different perspective. “Consider it a great business that benefited the American economy.” Another history teacher decided to ask me how much of my box braids was actually my real hair. Never had he asked a white girl this question. Never had he picked of a lock of a white girl’s hair and examined it.
When Trayvon Martin died, I revisited the moments in my head. I had revisited the lessons on slavery, the murmurs from white kids who separated themselves from the Black kids, other non Black POC students smirking with glee when Black girls feened for their long silky hair, or white boys who found Black girls physically attractive but couldn’t take them home. All those moments added up in my head to just how society viewed Blackness and Black bodies. We weren’t just peers or children. We were Black boys and girls who became Black women and men who would be seen as a threat.
Trayvon Martin was seen as threat before he even entered the neighborhood of George Zimmerman. A 17 year old loving his life without regard for whiteness. A threat. A young Black boy freely walking without fears a threat. A young Black boy existing in his own space that didn’t serve whiteness in that moment. A threat. A young Black boy becomes dangerous when he puts on a hoodie because of the value whiteness has placed upon us. A Black body should be visible. A Black body needs to be announced; they need to see Blackness coming their way to determine what value they want to place on it. A hoodie becomes a shield and stereotype for Black boys.
Zimmerman was described as a white Hispanic. A term used to pacify his crime. His proximity to whiteness allows him access to innocence while being Hispanic condemns him. However, when your identity is associated with whiteness, you seem to have more leeway in a society that devalues Blackness and upholds and uplifts whiteness. You also have the keys to be just the right amount of racist. So racist that you can kill a child in cold blood.
After the murder, of course protests sparked around the nation. T-shirts and memorials all over to raise awareness. Even President Obama said, “if I had a son, he would look like Trayvon.” Yet somehow, after Trayvon was the unofficial sacrificial lamb to the Black Lives Matter movement (hence the Emmett Till comparisons), we still have Black bodies being brutalized. We still have public executions to keep our Black bodies from being as threatening as possible. The question is why?
Why is Blackness still a threat? Why is the value of the Black body not attached to the value of the things whiteness can take from it? Why does racism and antiBlackness still burdened the lives of Black people?
Racism is tightly woven into American culture. From the time European immigrants stepped on the shores of this land, they have done nothing but assault and erase people of color. They created laws that would uphold their ideals and power. Created loopholes in official documents that would allow racism to fester and spread. Span for hundreds of years and reinvent itself through various systems and vocabulary.
Before Trayvon was Rodney. After Trayvon was Sandra, Eric, Tamir, Freddie, Korryn, Philando, and many more. In the year 2020, eight years after my senior year and the death of Trayvon Martin, we have a slew of Black bodies being assaulted and brutalized. Obviously, we need change and we need justice. We need to redefine justice and how it is executed. We need a reform in policing, and most of all we need a shift in mindset, which is the hardest thing to do in a country that determines the value of your body based on what it can offer- including the satisfaction of invoking terror upon you- and what you look like. That is the hardest part. Accuracy in history and culture can create a shift. Representation and decriminalizing minuscule things associated with Blackness, like wearing a hoodie per say can create a shift.
As Dr. Angela Y. Davis once said, “we have to talk about liberating minds as well as liberating society.” This is the key to prevent Black youth from seeing more Black bodies lifeless in their lifetime.